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It is often said and rarely true that a particular novel defies 
classification or even description. Such however seems truth- 
fully to be the case with Vladimir Nabokov* s LOLITA. It has 
been called everything from “a strong, a disturbing book” (The 
Manchester Guardian) and “a distinguished novel” (Graham 
Greene) to “the funniest book I remember having read” (John 
Hollander in The Partisan Review). It has been described as 
“Old Europe debauching young America,” and as “Young 
America debauching old Europe,” as “a joke on our national 
cant about youth,” “a cutting exposd of chronic American 
adolescence and shabby materialism," and “a diabolic master- 
piece.” And rarely in literary history have so many different 
critics felt compelled to mention so many different writers in 
their search for parallels to LOLITA and influences on its 
author. The gamut runs from Balzac to Scott Fitzgerald, from 
Aristophanes to James Thurber, from Freud and Krafft-Ebing- 
to Lewis Carroll and Charles Dickens. 

As might be expected of a book which has given rise to such 
widespread and varied comment, the history of LOLITA since 
it first appeared has been a fascinating one. It was three years 
after original publication by the Olympia Press in Paris that 
it was finally published in America in a hardcover edition 
under the distinguished Putnam imprint, and this Crest re- 
print marks its first and only appearance as an American 
paperbound edition. 

We give you, then, LOLITA, in full agreement with The 
Reporter Magazine, whose reviewer, Richard Schikel, said in 
the issue of November 28, 1957, ‘‘In many ways the most 
remarkable — and certainly the most original — novel written 
in English during recent years.” 


“Vladimir Nabokov learned English at his English 
governess’ lenee. His family belonged to the landed Russian 
aristocracy, but his liberal-minded father gave up his posi- 
tion at the Tsar’s court, sardonically advertised his court 
uniform for sale, later was assassinated by Russian monarch- 
ists. As a refugee from the Revolution, Vladimir worked 
for a Cambridge degree, lived in France and Germany, 
wrote eight novels in Russian. 

“Since coming to the U. S. in 1940, Nabokov has divided 
his time between teaching, lepidopterology (he is a pro- 
fessional collector with several unique butterfly specimens 
to his credit) and a brilliant new literary career in which 
he has evolved a vivid English style which combines Joy- 
cean word play with a Proustian evocation of mood and 
setting." ^ 

-TIME MAGAZINE 


The Crest imprint on outstanding fiction, previ~ 
ously ax’aiiable only in bigber-priced editions , is 
your guarantee of exciting and entertaining reading. 


A Crest Reprint 

Complelo and Unabridged 





Fawcett publications, inc., Greenwich , Cotitu- 



Copyright © 1955 by Vladimir Nabokov 


LOLITA was originally published by The Olympia Press. This 
new Crest edition is issued at 50{ through arrangement with the 
U. S. publisher, G. P. Putnam’s Sons. 

. All rights reserved, including the right to reproduce this book 
or portions thereof. 


U. S. PRINTING HISTORY 
G. P. Putnam’s Sons edition published August 1958 
First Printing, June 1958 
Seventeenth Printing, July 1959 
First CREST Printing, December 1959 
Second CREST Printing, December 1959 


All names, characters and events 
in this book are fictional and any 
resemblance to real persons which 
may seem to exist is purely co- 
■ incidental. 


CREST BOOKS are published by 
FAWCETT WORLD LIBRARY 
67 West 44th Street, New York 30, New York 


Printed in the United States of America 



FOREWORD 


Lolita, or the Confession of a White Widowed Male,” 
such were the two titles under which the writer of the present 
note received the strange pages it preambulates. "Humbert 
Humbert," their author, had died in legal captivity, of coronary 
thrombosis, on November 16, 1952, a few days before his trial 
was scheduled to start. His lawyer, my good friend and relation, 
Clarence Choate Clark, Esq., now of the District of Columbia 
bar, in asking me to edit the manuscript, based his request on a 
clause in his client's will which empowered my eminent cousin 
to use his discretion in all matters pertaining to the preparation 
of "Lolita” for print. Mr. Clark's decision may have been in- 
fluenced by the fact that the editor of his choice had fust been 
awarded the Poling Prize for a modest work (“Do the Senses 
make Sense?”) wherein certain morbid states and perversions 
had been discussed. 

My task proved simpler than either of us had anticipated . 
Save for the correction of obvious solecisms and a careful sup- 
pression of a few tenacious details that despite "HJi.” 's own 
efforts still subsisted in his text as signposts and tombstones 

5 



(indicative of places -or persons that taste would conceal and 
compassion spare), this remarkable memoir is presented intact. 
Its author’s bizarre cognomen is his own invention; and, of 
course, this mask — through which two hypnotic eyes seem to 
glow — had to remain unfitted in accordance with its wearer’s 
wish. While " Haze ” only rhymes with the heroine’s real sur- 
name, her first name is too closely interwound with the inmost 
fiber of the book to allow one to alter it; nor (as the reader will 
perceive for himself) is there any practical necessity to do so. 
References to “HU.” ’s crime may be looked up by the in- 
quisitive in the daily papers for September 1 952; its cause and 
purpose would have continued to remain a complete mystery, 
had not this memoir been permitted to come under my read- 
ing lamp. 

For the benefit of old-fashioned readers who wish to follow 
the destinies of the “real” people beyond the “ true ” story, a 
few details may be given as received from Mr. "Windmuller,” 
of “ Ramsdale ,” who desires his identity suppressed so that “the 
long shadow of this sorry and sordid business” should not reach 
the community to which he is proud to belong. His daughter, 
“Louise,” is by now a college sophomore, “Mona Dahl” is a 
student in Paris. “Rita” has recently married the proprietor of 
a hotel in Florida. Mrs. “Richard F. Schiller” died in childbed, 
giving birth to a stillborn girl, on Christmas Day 1952, in Gray 
Star, a settlement in the remotest Northwest. “Vivian Dark- 
bloom” has written a biography , “My Cue,” to he pubh'shed 
shortly, and critics who have perused the manuscript call it her 
best book. The caretakers of the various cemeteries involved 
report that no ghosts walk. 

Viewed simply as a novel, “ Lolita ” deals with situations and 
emotions that would remain exasperatingly vague to the reader 
had their expression been etiolated by means of platitudinous 
evasions. True, not a single obscene term is to be found in the 
whole work; indeed, the robust philistine who is conditioned 
by modem conventions into accepting without qualms a lavish 
array of four-letter words in a banal novel, will be quite shocked 
by their absence here. If, however, for this paradoxical prude's 
comfort, an editor attempted to dilute or omit scenes that a 
certain type of mind might call “aphrodisiac” (sec in this 
respect the monumental decision rendered December 6, 1933, 
by Hon. John M. Woolsey in regard to another, considerably 
more outspoken, book), one would have to forego the publica- 
tion of “Lolita” altogether, since those very scenes that one 

6 


might ineptly accuse of a sensuous existence of their own, are 
the most strictly functional ones in the development of a tragic 
tale tending unswervingly to nothing less than a moral apoth- 
eosis. The cynic may say that commercial pornography makes 
the same claim; the learned may counter by asserting that 
“HI 1." ’s impassioned confession is a tempest in a test tube; 
that at least 12% of American adnlt males— a “conservative” 
estimate according to Dr. Blanche Schwarzmann (verbal com- 
munication) — enjoy yearly, in one way or another, the special 
experience “HU.” describes with such despair; that had our 
demented diarist gone, in the fatal summer of 1947, to a com- 
petent psychopathologist, there would have been no disaster; 
but then, neither would there have been this booh 

This commentator may be excused for repeating what he 
has stressed in his own hooks and lectures, namely that “of- 
fensive” is frequently but a synonym for “unusual”; and a great 
work of art is of course always original, and thus by its very 
nature should come as a more or less shocking surprise. I have 
no intention to glorify “HU.” No doubt, he is horrible, he is 
abject, he is a shining example of moral leprosy, a mixture of 
ferocity and jocularity that betrays supreme misery perhaps, 
but is not conducive to attractiveness. He is ponderously capri- 
cious. Many of his casual opinions on the people and scenery 
of this country are ludicrous. A desperate honesty that throbs 
through his confession does not absolve him from sins of dia- 
bolical cunning. He is abnormal. He is not a gentleman. But 
how magically his singing violin can conjure up a tendsesse, a. 
compassion for Lolita that makes us entranced with the book 
while abhorring its author! 

As a case history, “Lolita" will become, no doubt, a classic 
in psychiatric circles. As a work of art, it transcends its expia- 
tory aspecfspand still mare important to ns than scientific 
significance and literary worth, is the ethical impact the book 
should have on the serious reader, for in this poignant personal 
study there lurks a general lesson; the wayward child, the 
egotistic mother, the panting maniac — these are not only mid 
characters in a unique story; they warn us of dangerous trends; 
they point out potent evils. “Lolita” should make aD of us — 
parents, social workers, educators — apply ourselves with still 
greater vigilance and vision to the task of bringing np a better 
generation in a safer world. 

Widworth, Mass. John Ray, Jr., PhD. 

7 



Part One 




1 


Lolita, light of my life, fire of my loins. My sin, my sonL 
Lo-lee-ta: the tip of the tongue taking a trip of three steps 
down the palate to tap, at three, on the teeth. Lo. Lee, Ta. 

She was Lo, plain Lo, in the morning, standing four feet 
ten in one sock. She was Lola in slacks. She was Dolly at 
school. She was Dolores on the dotted line. But in my aims 
she was always Lolita. 

Did she have a precursor? She did, indeed she did. In point 
of fact, there might have been no Lolita at all had I not loved, 
one summer, a certain initial girl-child. In a princedom by the 
sea. Oh when? About as many years before Lolita was bom as 
my age was that summer. You can always count on a murderer 
for a fancy prose style. 

Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, exhibit number one is 
what the seraphs, the misinformed, simple, noble-winged 
seraphs, envied. Look at this tangle of thorns. 

II 



2 


I was born in 1910, in Paris. My father was a gentle, easy-go- 
ing person, a salad of racial genes: a Swiss citizen, of mixed 
French and Austrian descent, with a dash of the Danube in his 
veins. I am going to pass around in a minute some lovely, 
glossy-blue picture-postcards. He owned a luxurious hotel on 
the Riviera. His father and two grandfathers had sold wine, 
jewels and silk, respectively. At thirty he married an' English 
girl, daughter of Jerome Dunn, the alpinist, and granddaughter 
of two Dorset parsons, experts in obscure subjects — paleo- 
pedology and Aeolian harps, respectively. My very photogenic 
mother died in a freak accident (picnic, lightning) when I was 
three, and, save for a pocket or warmth in the darkest past, 
nothing of her subsists within the hollows and dells of mem- 
ory, over which, if you can still stand my style (I am writing 
under observation), the sun of my infancy had set: surely, you 
all know those redolent remnants of day suspended, with the 
midges, about some hedge in bloom or suddenly entered and 
traversed by the rambler, at the bottom of a hill, in the sum- 
mer dusk; a furry warmth, golden midges. 

My mother’s elder sister, Sybil, whom a cousin of my fa- 
ther’s had married and then neglected, served in my immediate 
family as a kind of unpaid governess and housekeeper. Some- 
body told me later that she had been in love with my father, 
and that he had lightheartedly taken advantage of it one rainy 
day and forgotten it by the time the weather cleared. I was 
extremely fond of her, despite the rigidity — the fatal rigidity — 
of some of her rules. Perhaps she wanted to make of me, in the 
fullness of time, a better widower than my father. Aunt Sybil 
had pink-rimmed azure eyes and a waxen complexion. She 
wrote poetry. She was poetically superstitious. She said she 
knew she would die soon afteT my sixteenth birthday, and did. 
Her husband, a great traveler in perfumes, spent most of his 
time in America, where eventually he founded a firm and ac- 
quired a bit of real estate. 

I grew, a happy, healthy child in a bright world of illustrated 
books, clean sand, orange trees, friendly dogs, sea vistas and 
smiling faces. Around me the splendid Hotel Mirana revolved 
as a kind of private universe, a whitewashed cosmos within the 

12 


blue greater one that blazed outside. From the aproned pot- 
scrubber to the flanneled potentate, everybody liked me, every- 
body petted me. Elderly American ladies leaning on their 
canes listed toward me like towers of Pisa. Ruined Russian 
princesses who could not pay my father, bought me expensive 
bonbons. He,_mon cher petit papa, took me out boating and 
biking, taught me to swim and dive and water-ski, read to me 
Don Quixote and Les Mis6rables, and 1 adored and respected 
him and felt glad for him whenever I overheard the servants 
discuss his various lady-friends, beautiful and kind beings who 
made much of me and cooed and shed precious tears over my 
cheerful motherlessness. 

I attended an English day school a few miles from home, 
and there I played rackets and fives, and got excellent marks, 
and was on perfect terms with schoolmates and teachers alike. 
The only definite sexual events that I can remember as having 
occurred before my thirteenth birthday (that is, before I first 
saw my little Annabel) were: a solemn, decorous and purely 
theoretical talk about pubertal surprises in the rose garden of 
the school with an American kid, the son of a then celebrated 
motion-picture actress whom he seldom saw in the three- 
dimensional world; and some interesting reactions on the part 
. of my organism to certain photographs, pearl and umbra, with 
infinitely soft partings, in Piehon’s sumptuous La Beau td 
Humaine that I had filched from under a mountain of marble- 
bound Graphics in the hotel library. Later, in his delightful 
debonair manner, my father gave me all the information he 
thought I needed about sex; this was just before sending me, in 
the autumn of 1923, to a-lycSe in Lyon (where we were to 
spend three winters); but alas, in tire summer of that year, 
he was touring Italy with Mme de R. and her daughter, and I 
had nobody to complain to, nobody to consult. 


3 


Annabel was, like the writer, of mixed parentage: half-Eng- 
lish, half-Dutch, in her case. I remember her features far less 
distinctly today than I did a few years ago, before I knew 
Lolita. There are two kinds of visual memory: one when yon 

13 



skillfully recreate an image in the laboratory of your mind, 
vnth your eyes open {and then I see Annabel in such general 
terms as: "honey-colored skin,” "thin arms,” “brown bobbed 
hair,” "long lashes,” "big bright mouth”); and the other when 
you instantly evoke, with shut eyes, on the dark innerside of 
yoar eyelids, the objective, absolutely optical replica of a be- 
loved face, a little ghost in natural colors (and this is how I 
see Lolita). 

Let me therefore primly limit myself, in describing Annabel, 
to saying she was a lovely child a few months my junior. Her 
parents were old friends of my aunt's, and as stuffy as she. 
They had rented a villa not far from Hotel Mirana. Bald brown 
Mr. Leigh and fat, powdered Mrs. Leigh (bom Vanessa van 
Ness). How I loathed them! At first, Annabel and I talked of 
peripheral affairs. She kept lifting handfuls of fine sand and 
letting it pour through her fingers. Our brains were tuned the 
way those of intelligent European preadolescents were in our 
day and set, and I doubt if much individual genius should be 
assigned to our interest in the plurality of inhabited worlds, 
competitive tennis, infinity, solipsism and so on. The softness 
and fragility of baby animals caused us the same intense pain. 
She wanted to be a nurse in some famished Asiatic country; I 
wanted to be a famous spy. 

All at once we were madly, clumsily, shamelessly, agonizing- 
ly in love with each other; hopelessly, I should add, because 
that frenzy of mutual possession might have been assuaged 
only by our actually imbibing and assimilating every particle of 
each other's soul and flesh; but there we were, unable even to 
mate as slum children would have so easily found an oppor- 
tunity to do. After one wold attempt we made to meet at night 
in her garden (of which more later), the only privacy we were 
allowed was to be'out of earshot but not out of sight on the 
populous part of the plage. There, on the soft sand, a few feet 
away from our elders, we would spraw'l all morning, in a petri- 
fied paroxysm of desire, and take advantage of every blessed 
quirk in space and time to touch each other: her hand, half- 
hidden in the sand, would creep toward me, its slender brown 
fingers sleepwalking nearer and nearer; then, her opalescent 
knee would start on a long cautious journey; sometimes a 
chance rampart built by younger children granted us sufficient 
concealment to graze each other’s salty lips; these incomplete 
contacts drove our healthy and inexperienced young bodies to 
such a state of exasperation that not even the cool blue water, 

14 


under -which we still clawed at each other, could bring relief. " 
Among some treasures I lost during the wanderings of my 
adult years, there was a snapshot taken by my 'aunt which 
showed Annabel, her parents 'and the staid, elderly, lame 
gentleman, a Dr. Cooper, who that same summer courted my 
aunt, grouped around a table in a sidewalk cafd. Annabel did 
not come out well, caught as sbe was in the act of bending 
over her chocolat glacd, and her thin bare shoulders and the 
parting in her hair were about all that could be identified (as I 
remember that picture) amid the sunny blur into which her 
lost loveliness graded; but I, sitting somewhat apart from the 
rest, came out with a kind of dramatic conspicuousness: a 
moody, beetle-browed boy in a dark sport shirt and well-, 
tailored white shorts, his legs crossed, sitting in profile, looking 
away. That photograph was taken on the last day of our fatal 
summer and just a few minutes before we made our second 
and final attempt to thwart fate. Under the flimsiest of pre- . 
texts (this was our very last chance, and nothing really mat- 
tered) we escaped from the caf6 to the beach, and found a 
desolate stretch of sand, and there, in the violet shadow of 
some red rocks forming a kind of cave, had a brief session of 
avid caresses, with somebody's lost pair of sunglasses for only 
witness. I was on my knees, and on the point of possessing my 
darling, when two bearded bathers, the old man of the sea 
and his brother, came out of the sea with exclamations of 
ribald encouragement, and four months later she died of 
typhus in Corfu. 



I leaf again and again through these miserable memories, and 
keep asking myself, was it then, in the glitter of that remote 
summer, that the rift in my life began; or was my excessive 
desire for that child only the first evidence of an inherent 
singularity? When I try to analyze' my own cravings, motives, 
actions and so forth, I surrender to a sort of retrospective 
imagination which feeds the analytic faculty with boundless 
alternatives and which causes each visualized route to fork and 
re-fork without end in the maddeningly complex prospect of 

15 



my past I am convinced, however, that in a certain magic and 
fateful way Lolita began with Annabel. 

I also know that the shock of Annabel’s death consolidated 
the frustration of that nightmare summer, made of it a perma- 
nent obstacle to any further romance throughout the cold 
years of my youth. The spiritual and the physical had been 
blended in us with a perfection that must remain incompre- 
hensible to the matter-of-fact, crude, standard-brained young- 
sters of today. Long after her death I felt her thoughts floating 
through mine. Long before we met we had had the same 
dreams. We compared notes. We found strange affinities. The 
same June of the same year ( 1919) a stray canary had fluttered 
into her house and mine, in two widely separated countries. 
Oh, Lolita, had you loved me thus! 

I have reserved for the conclusion of my "Annabel” phase 
the account of. our unsuccessful first tryst One night, she 
managed to deceive the vicious vigilance of her family. In a 
nervous and slender-leaved mimosa grove at the back of their 
villa we found a perch on the ruins of a low stone wall. 
Through the darkness and the tender trees we could see the 
arabesques of lighted windows which, touched up by the 
colored inks of sensitive memory, appear to me now like 
playing cards — presumably because a bridge game was keeping 
the enemy busy. She trembled and twitched as I kissed the 
comer of her parted lips and the hot lobe of her ear. A cluster 
of stars palely glowed above us, between the silhouettes of long 
thin leaves; that vibrant sky seemed as naked as she was under 
her light frock. I saw her face in the sky, strangely distinct, as 
if it emitted a faint radiance of its own. Her legs, her lovely 
live legs, were not too close together, and when my hand 
located what it sought, a dreamy and eerie expression, half- 
pleasure, half-pain, came over those childish features. She sat a 
little higher than I, and whenever in her solitary ecstasy she 
was led to kiss me, her head would bend vrith a sleepy, soft, 
drooping movement that was almost woeful, and her bare 
knees caught and compressed my wrist, and slackened again; 
and her quivering mouth, distorted by the acridity of some 
mysterious potion, with a sibilant intake of breath came near 
to my face. She would try to relieve the pain of love by first 
roughly rubbing her dry lips against mine; then my darling 
would draw away with a nervous toss of her hair, and then 
again come darkly near and let me feed on her open mouth, 
while with a generosity that was ready to offer her everything, 

16 


my heart, my throat, my entrails, I gave her to hold in her 
awkward fist the scepter of my passion. 

I recall the scent of some kind of toilet powder— I believe 
she stole it from her mother’s Spanish maid — a sweetish, lowly, 
musky perfume. It mingled with her own biscuity odor, and 
my senses were suddenly filled to the brim; a sudden commotion 
in a nearby bush prevented them from overflowing — and as we 
drew away from each other, and with aching veins attended 
to what was probably a prowling cat, there came from the 
house her mother’s voice calling her, with a rising frantic note 
— and Dr. Cooper -ponderously limped out into the garden. 
But that mimosa grove — the haze of stars, the tingle, the 
flame, the honeydew, and the ache remained with me, and 
that little girl' with her seaside limbs and ardent tongue 
haunted me ever since — until at last, twenty-four years later, 
I broke her spell by incarnating her in another. 


5 


The days of mt touth, as I look back on them, seem to fly 
away from me in a flurry of. pale repetitive scraps like those 
morning snow storms of used tissue paper that a train passen- 
ger sees whirling in the wake of the observation car. In my 
sanitary relations with women I was practical, ironical and 
brisk. While a college student, in London and Paris, paid 
ladies sufficed me. My studies were meticulous and intense, 
although not particularly fruitful. At first, I planned to take a 
degree in psychiatry as many monqu6 talents do; but I was 
even more manqud than that; a peculiar exhaustion, I am so 
oppressed, doctor, set in; and I switched to English literature, 
where so many frustrated poets end as pipe-smoking teachers 
in tweeds. Paris suited me. I discussed Soviet movies with 
expatriates. I sat with uranists in the Deux Magots. I published 
tortuous essays in obscure journals, I composed pastiches: 

. . . Fraulein von Kulp 

may turn, her hand upon the door; 

I will not follow her. Nor Fresca. Nor 
that Gull. 


17 


■ A of mine entitled 'The Proustian theme in a letter 
from Keats to Benjamin Bailey” was chuckled over by the six 
or seven scholars who read it I launched upon an “Histone 
sbrdgde de la p o6sie anglaise” for a prominent publishing 
firm, and then started to compile that manual of French 
literature for English-speaking students (with comparisons 
drawn from .English writers) which was to occupy me 
throughout the forties — and the last volume of which was 
almost ready for press by the time of my arrest 

I found a. job-teaching English to a group of adults in 
Auteuil. Then a school for boys employed me for a couple of 
winters. Now and then I took advantage of the acquaintances 
I had formed among social workers and psychotherapists to 
visit in their company various institutions, such as orphan- 
ages and reform schools, where pale pubescent girls with 
matted eyelashes could be stared at in perfect impunity 
remindful of that granted one in dreams. 

Now I wish to introduce the following idea. Between the 
age limits of nine and fourteen there occur maidens who, to 
certain bewitched travelers, twice or many times older than 
they, reveal their true nature which is not human, but 
nymphic (that is, demoniac); and these chosen creatures I 
propose to designate as "nymphets.” 

It will be marked that I substitute time terms for spatial 
ones. In fact, I would have the reader see "nine" and "four- 
teen” as the boundaries — the mirrory beaches and rosy rocks — 
of an enchanted island haunted by those nymphets of mine 
and surrounded by a vast, misty sea. Between those age limits, 
are all girl-children nymphets? Of course not. Otherwise, rye 
who are in the know, we lone voyagers, we nympholepts, 
would have long gone insane. Neither are good looks any 
criterion; and vulgarity, or at least what a given community 
terms so, does not necessarily impair certain mysterious char- 
acteristics, the fey grace, the elusive, shifty, soul-shattering 
insidious charm that separates the nymphet from such coevals 
of hers as are incomparably more dependent on the spatial 
world of synchronous phenomena than on that intangible is- 
land of entranced time where Lolita plays with her likes. With- 
in the same age limits the number of true nymphets is strik- 
ingly inferior to that of provisionally plain, or just nice or 
"cute,” or even "sweet” and "attractive,” ordinary, plumpish, 
formless, cold-skinned, essentially human little girls, with tum- 
mies and pigtails, who may or may not turn into adults of great 

18 



beauty (look at the ugly dumplings in blade stockings and 
white bats that are metamorphosed into stunning stars of the 
screen). A normal man given a group photograph of school 
girls or Girl Scouts and asked to point out the comeliest one 
will not necessarily choose the nymphet among them. You 
have to be an artist and a madman, a creature of infinite 
melancholy, with a bubble of bot poison in your loins and a 
super-voluptuous flame permanently aglow in your subtle spine 
(oh, bow you have to cringe and hide!), in order to discern 
at once, by ineffable signs — the slightly feline outline of a 
cheekbone, the slenderness of a downy limb, and other indices 
which despair and shame and tears of- tenderness forbid me to 
tabulate — the little deafly demon among the wholesome chil- 
dren; she stands unrecognized by them and unconscious herself 
of her fantastic power. 

Furthermore, since the idea of time plays such a magic part 
in the matter, the student should not be surprised to leam that 
there must be a gap of several years, never less than ten I 
should say, generally thirty or forty, and as many as ninety in a 
few known cases, between maiden and man to enable the latter 
to come under a nymphet's spelL It is a question of focal ad- 
justment, of a certain distance that the inner eye thrills to sur- 
mount, and a certain contrast that the mind perceives with a 
gasp of perverse delight. When I was a child and she was a 
child, my little Annabel was no nymphet to me; I was her 
equal, a faunlet in my own right, on that same enchanted is- 
land of time; but today, in September 1952, after twenty-nine, 
years have elapsed, I think I can distinguish in her the initial 
feteful elf in my life. We loved each other with a premature 
love, marked by a fierceness that so often destroys adult lives. 
I was a strong lad and survived; but the poison was in the 
wound, and the wound remained ever open, and soon I found 
myself maturing amid a civilization which allows a man of 
twenty-five to court a girl of sixteen but not a girl of twelve. 

No wonder, then, that my adult life during the European 
period of my existence proved monstrously twofold. Overtly, I 
had so-called normal relationships with a number of terrestrial 
women having pumpkins or pears for breasts; inly, I was con- 
sumed by a hdl furnace of localized lust for every passing 
nymphet whom as a law-abiding poltroon I never dared ap- 
proach. The human females I was allowed to wield were but 
palliative agents. I am ready to believe that the sensations I 
derived from natural fornication were much the same as those 

19 



knownto normal big males consorting wifi their normal big 
mates in that routine rhythm which shakes the world. The 
trouble was that those gentlemen had not, and I had, caught 
glimpses of an incomparably more poignant bliss. The dimmest 
of my pollutive dreams was a thousand times more dazzling 
than all the adultery the most virile writer of genius or the 
most talented impotent might imagine. My world was split. I 
was aware of not one but two sexes, neither of which was mine; 
both would be termed female by the anatomist. But to me, 
through the prism of my senses, "they were as different as mist 
and mast.” All this I rationalize now. In my twenties and early 
thirties, I did not understand my throes quite so clearly. While 
my body knew what it craved for, my mind rejected my body's 
every plea. One moment I was ashamed and frightened, an- 
other recklessly optimistic. Taboos strangulated me. Psycho- 
analysts wooed me with pseudoliberations of pseudolibidoes. 
The fact that to me the only objects of amorous tremor were 
sisters of Annabel’s, her handmaids and girl-pages, appeared to 
me at times as a forerunner of insanity. At other times I would 
tell myself that it was all a question of attitude, that there was 
really nothing wrong in being moved to distraction by girl- 
children. Let me remind my reader that in England, with the 
passage of the Children and Young Person Act in 1933, the 
term "girl-child” is defined as "a girl who is over eight but 
under fourteen years” (after that, from fourteen to seventeen, 
the statutory definition is "young person”) . In Massachusetts, 
JJ.S., on the other hand, a "wayward child” is, technically, one 
“between seven and seventeen years of age” (who, moreover, 
habitually associates with vicious or immoral persons) . Hugh 
Broughton, a writer of controversy in the reign of James the 
First, has proved that Rahab was a harlot at ten years of age. 
This is all very interesting, and I daresay you see me already 
frothing at the mouth in a fit; but no, I am not; I am just 
wanking happy thoughts into a little tiddle cup. Here are some 
more pictures. Here is Virgil who could the nymphet sing in 
single tone, but probably preferred a lad’s peritonium. Here 
are two of King Akhna ten's and Queen Nefertiti’s pre-nubile 
Nile daughters (that royal couple had a fitter of six), w'eanng 
nothing but many necklaces of bright beads, relaxed on cush- 
ions, intact after three thousand years, with their soft brown 
puppybodies, cropped hair and long ebony eyes. Here are some 
brides of ten compelled to seat themselves on the fascinum, 
the ririle ivory in the temples of classical scholarship. Mar- 

20 



riage and cohabitation before the age of puberty are still not 
uncommon in certain East Indian provinces. Lepcha old men 
of eighty copulate with girls of eight, and nobody minds. 
After all, Dante fell madly in love -with his Beatrice when she 
was nine, a spariding girieen, painted and lovely, and be- 
Jeweled, in a crimson frock, and this was in 1274, in Florence, 
at a private feast in the merry month of May. And when 
Petrarch fell madly in love with his Laureen, she was a fair- 
haired nymphet of twelve running in the wind, in the pollen 
and dust, a flower in flight, in the beautiful plain as descried 
from the hills of Vaucluse. 

But let ns he prim and civilized. Humbert Humbert tried 
hard to be good. Really and truly, he did. He had the utmost 
respect for ordinary children, with their purity and vulner- 
ability, and under no circumstances would he have interfered 
with the innocence of a child, if there was the least risk of a 
row. But how bis heart beat when, among the innocent throng, 
he espied a demon child, “enfant charmanfe et fourbe," dim 
eyes, bright lips, ten years in jail if you only show her you are 
looking at her. So life went Humbert was perfectly capable of 
intercourse with Eve, but it was Lilith he longed for. The hud- 
stage of breast development appears early ( 10.7 years) in the 
sequence of somatic changes accompanying pubescence. And 
the next maturational item available is the first appearance of 
pigmented pubic hair (11.2 years) . My little cup brims with 
riddles. 

A shipwreck. An atoll. Alone with a drowned passenger’s , 
shivering child. Darling, this is only a game! How marvelous 
were my fancied adventures as I sat on a hard park bench pre- 
tending to be immersed in a trembling book. Around the quiet 
scholar, nymphets played freely, as if he were a famflar statue 
or part of an old tree's shadow and sheen. Once a perfect little 
beauty in a tartan frock, with a clatter put her heavily aimed 
foot near me upon the bench to dip her slim hare arms into me 
and tighten the strap of her roller skate,.and I dissolved in the 
sun, with my book for fig leaf, as her auburn ringlets fell all 
over her skinned knee, and the shadow of leaves I shared 
pulsated and melted on her radiant limb next to my chame- 
leonic cheek. Another time a red-haired school girl hung over 
me in the and a revelation of axillary russet I obtained 

remained in my blood for weeks. I could list a great number 
of these one-sided diminutive romances. Some of them ended 
in a rich flavor of hell. It happened for instance that from my 

21 



balcony I would notice a lighted window across the street and 
what looked like a nymphet in the act of undressing before a 
co-operative mirror. Thus isolated, thus removed, the vision 
acquired an especially keen charm that made me race with all 
speed toward my lone gratification. But abruptly, fiendishly, 
the tender pattern of nudity I had adored would be trans- 
formed into the disgusting lamp-lit bare arm of a man in his 
underclothes reading his paper by the open window in the hot, 
damp, hopeless summer. night. 

Rope-skipping, hopscotch. That old woman in black who sat 
down next to me on my bench, on my rack of joy (a nymphet 
was groping under me for a lost marble), and asked if I had 
stomachache, the insolent hag. Ah, leave me alone in my 
pubescent park, in my mossy garden. Let them play around me 
forever. Never grow up. 


A propos: I have often wondered what became of those 
nymphets later? In this wrought-iron world of criss-cross cause 
and effect, could it be that the hidden throb I stole from them 
did not affect their future? I had possessed her — and she never 
knew it. All right. But would it not tell sometime later? Had I 
not somehow tampered with her fate by involving her image in 
my voluptas? Oh, it was, and remains, a source of great and 
terrible wonder. 

I learned, however, what they looked like, those lovely, mad- 
dening, thin-armed nymphets, when they grew up. I remember 
walking along an animated street on a gray spring afternoon 
somewhere near the Madeleine. A short slim girl passed me 
at a rapid, high-heeled, tripping step, we glanced back at the 
same moment, she stopped and I accosted her. She came hard- 
ly up to my chest hair and bad the kind of dimpled round little 
face French girls so often have, and I liked her long lashes and 
tight-fitting tailored dress sheathing in pearl-gray her young 
body which still retained — and that was the nymphic echo, the 
chill of delight, the leap in my loins — a childish something 
mingling with the professional fittillement of her small agile 
rump. I asked her price, and she promptly replied with 

22 


melodious silvery precision (a bird, a very bird!) Cent. I 
tried to haggle bnt she saw the awful lone longing in ray low- 
ered eyes, directed so far down at her round forehead and rudi- 
mentary hat (a band, a posy) ; and with one beat of her lashes: 
“Tant pis ” she said, and made as if to move away. Perhaps 
only three years earlier I might have seen her coming home 
from school! That evocation settled the matter. She led me np 
the usual steep stairs, with the usual bell clearing the way for 
the monsieur who might not care to meet another monsieur, 
on the mournful climb to the abject room, all bed and bidet 
As usual, she ashed at once for her petit cadeau, and as usual 
1 ashed her name (Moniqne) and her age (eighteen). I was 
pretty well acquainted with the banal way of streetwalkers. 
They all answer “dix-hnif” — a trim twitter, a note of finality 
and wistful deceit which they emit np to ten times per day, the 
poor little creatures. But in Monique’s case there could be 
no doubt she was, if anything, adding one or two years to hex 
age. This I deduced from many details of her compact, neat, 
curiously immature body. Hasing shed her clothes with fas- 
cinating rapidity, she stood for a moment partly wrapped in 
the dingy gauze of the window curtain listening with infantile 
pleasure, as pat as pat could be, to an organ-grinder in the 
dusk-brimming courtyard below. When I examined her small 
hands and drew her attention to their grubby fingernails, she 
said with a naive frown “Oui, ce n’est pas bfen,” and went to 
the washbasin, but I said it did not matter, did not matter at 
all. With her brown bobbed hair, luminous gray eyes and pale * 
skin, she looked perfectly charming. Her hips were no bigger 
than those of a squatting lad; in fact, I do not hesitate to say 
(and indeed this is the reason why I linger gratefully in that 
gauze-gray room of memory with little Monique) that among 
the eighty or so grues I had had operate upon me, she was the 
only one that gave me a pang of genuine pleasure. “Tl Stait 
malin, celui qui a invents ce truc-ik,” she commented amiably, 
and got back into ber clothes with the same high-style speed. 

I asked for another, more elaborate, assignment later the 
same evening, and she said sbe would meet me at the comer 
cate at nine, and swore she had never posd nn lapin in all her 
young life. We returned to the same room, and I could not 
help saying how very pretty she was to which she answered 
demurely: “Tu es bien gentil de dire ga,” and then, noticing 
what I noticed too in the mirror reflecting our small Eden — 
the dreadful grimace of clenched-teeth tenderness that dis- 

23 


torted my mouth — dutiful little Monique (oh, she had been 
a nymphet all right) wanted to know if she should remove 
the layer of red from her lips avant gu'on se couche in case I 
planned to kiss her. Of course, I planned it. I let myself go 
with her more completely than I had with any young lady be- 
fore, and my last vision that night of long-lashed Monique is 
touched up with a gaiety that I find seldom associated with any 
event in my humiliating, sordid, taciturn love life. She looked 
tremendously pleased with the bonus of fifty I gave her as 
she trotted out into the April night dr izzl e with Humbert 
Humbert lumbering in her narrow wake. Stopping before a 
window display she said with great gusto: "Je vais m’acheter 
des basf” and never may I forget the way her Parisian childish 
lips exploded on ‘'has/' pronouncing it with an appetite that 
all but changed the “a” into a brief buoyant bursting “o” as in 
“bot.” 

I had a date with her next day at 2:15 p.m. in my own 
rooms, but it was less successful, she seemed to have grown less 
juvenile, more of a woman overnight. A cold I caught from her 
led me to cancel a fourth assignment, nor was I sorry to break 
an emotional series that threatened to burden me with heart- 
rending fantasies and peter out in dull disappointment. So let 
her remain, sleek, slender Monique, as she was for a minute or 
two: a delinquent nymphet shining through the matter-of- 
fact young whore. 

My brief acquaintance with her started a train of thought 
•that may seem pretty obvious to the reader who knows the 
ropes. An advertisement in a lewd magazine landed me, one 
brave day, in the office of a Mile Edith who began by offering 
me to choose a kindred soul from a collection of rather formal 
photographs in a rather soiled album. (“Regardez-moi cette 
belle brunef” ) When I pushed the album away and somehow 
managed to blurt out my criminal craving, she looked as if 
about to show me the door; however, after asking me what 
price I was prepared to disburse, she condescended to put me 
in touch with a person qui pounait arranger la chose. Next 
day, an asthmatic woman, coarsely painted, garrulous, garlicky, 
with an almost farcical Provencal accent and a black mustache 
above a purple lip, took me to wbat was apparently her own 
domicile, and there, after explosively kissing the bunched tips 
of her fat fingers to signify the delectable rosebud quality of 
her merchandise, she theatrically drew aside a curtain to reveal 
what I judged was that part of the room where a large and un- 

24 


fastidious family usually slept It -was bow empty save for a 
monstrously plump, sallow, repulsively plain girl of at least 
fifteen with red-ribboned thick bfack braids who sat on a chair 
perfunctorily nursing a bald doll. When I shook my head and 
tried to shuffle out of the trap, the woman, talking fast began 
removing the dingy woolen jersey from the young giantess' 
torso; then, seeing my determination to leave, she demanded 
son argent. A door at the end of the room was opened, and two 
men who had been dining in the kitchen joined in the 
squabble. They were misshapen, bare-necked, very swarthy and 
one of them wore dark glasses. A small boy and a begrimed, 
bowlegged toddler lurked behind them. With the insolent 
logic of a nightmare, the enraged procuress, indicating the man 
in glasses, said he had served in the police, lui, so that I had 
better do as I was told. I went up to Marie — for that was her 
stellar name — who by then had quietly transferred her heavy 
haunches to a stool at the kitchen table and resumed her in- 
terrupted soup while the toddler picked up the doll. With, a 
surge of pity dramatizing my idiotic gesture, I thrust a bank- 
note into her indifferent hand. She surrendered my gift to the 
cs-detcctive, whereupon I was suffered to leave. 



I no not rarow if the pimp’s album may not have been an- 
other link in the daisy-chain; but soon after, for my own safety, 
I decided to many. It occurred to me that Tegular hours, home- 
cooked meals, all the conventions of marriage, the prophylactic 
routine of its bedroom activities and, who knows, the eventual 
flowering of certain moral values, of certain spiritual substi- 
tutes, might help me, if not to purge myself of my degrading 
and dangerous desires, at least to keep them undeT pacific con- 
trol. A little money that had come my way after my father’s 
death (nothing very grand — the Mirana had been sold long 
before), in addition to my striking if somewhat brutal good 
looks, allowed me to enter upon my quest with equanimity. 
After considerable deliberation, my choice fell on the daughter 
of a Polish doctor: the good man happened to be treating me 
for spells of dizziness and tachvcardia. We played chess; his 

25 


. daughter watched me from behind her easel, and inserted eyes 
or knuckles borrowed from me into the cubistic trash that 
accomplished misses then painted instead of lilacs and lambs. 
.Let me repeat with quiet force: I was, and still am, despite 
mes malheurs, an exceptionally handsome male; slow-moving, 
tall, with soft dark hair and a gloomy but all the more seduc- 
tive cast of demeanor. Exceptional virility often reflects in the 
subject’s displayable features a sullen and congested something 
that pertains to what he has to conceal. And this was my case. 
Well did I know, alas, that I could obtain at the snap of my 
fingers any adult female I chose; in fact, it had become quite 
a habit with me of not being too attentive to women lest they 
come toppling, bloodripe, into my cold lap. Had I been a 
franpa is moyen with a taste for flashy ladies, I might have 
easily found, among the many crazed beauties that lashed my 
grim rock, creatures far more fascinating than Valeria. My 
choice, however, was prompted by considerations whose es- 
sence was, as I realized too late, a piteous compromise. All of 
which goes to show how dreadfully stupid poor Humbert al- 
ways was in matters of sex. 


8 


Although I told myself I was looking merely for a soothing 
presence, a glorified pot-au-feu, an animated merkin, what 
really attracted me to Valeria was the imitation she gave of a 
little girl. She gave it not because sbe had divined something 
about me; it was just her style — and I fell for it. Actually, she 
was at least in her late twenties (I never established her exact 
age for even her passport lied) and bad mislaid her virginity 
under circumstances that changed with her reminiscent 
moods. I, on my part, was as naive as only a pervert can be. 
She looked fluffy and frolicsome, dressed A h gamine, showed 
a generous amount of smooth leg, knew how to stress the white 
of a bare instep by the black of a velvet slipper, and pouted, 
and dimpled, and romped, and dirndled, and shook her short 
curly blond hair in the cutest and tritest fashion imaginable. 

After a brief ceremony at the mairie, I took her to the new 
apartment I had rented and, somewhat to her surprise, bad her 

26 



wear, before I touched her, a girl’s plain nightshirt that I had 
managed to filch from the linen closet of an orphanage. I de- 
rived some fun from that nuptial night and had the idiot in 
hysterics by sunrise. But reality soon asserted itself. The 
bleached curl revealed its melanic root; the down turned to 
prickles on a shaved shin; the mobile moist mouth, no matter 
how I stuffed it with love, disclosed ignomimously its resem- 
blance to the corresponding part in a treasured portrait of her 
toadlike dead mama; and presently, instead of a pale little 
gutter girl, Humbert Humbert had on his hands a large, puffy, 
short-legged, big-breasted and practically brainless baba. 

This state of affairs lasted from 1935 to 1939. Her only asset 
was a muted nature which did help to produce an odd sense of 
comfort in our small squalid fiat: two rooms, a hazy view in 
one window, a brick wall in the other, a tiny kitchen, a shoe- 
shaped bath tub, within which I felt like Marat but with no 
white-necked maiden to stab me. We had quite a few cozy 
evenings together, she deep in her Paris-Soir, I working at a 
rickety table. We went to movies, bicycle races and boxing 
matches. I appealed to her stale flesh very seldom, only in 
cases of great urgency and despair. The grocer opposite had a 
little daughter whose shadow drove me mad; but with Valeria’s 
help I did find after all some legal outlets to my fantastic 
predicament As to cooking, we tacitly dismissed the pot-au-feu 
and had most of our meals at a crowded place in rue Bona- 
parte where there were wine stains on the table doth and a 
good deal of foreign babble. And next door, an art dealer dis-. 
played in his cluttered window a splendid, flamboyant, green, 
red, golden and inky blue, ancient American estampe — a loco- 
motive with a gigantic smokestack, great baroque lamps and a 
tremendous cowcatchei, hauling its mauve coaches through 
the stormy prairie night and mixing a lot of spark-studded 
black smoke with the furry thunder douds. 

These burst. In the summer of 1939 mon oncle cTAmerigue 
died bequeathing me an annual income of a few thousand dol- 
lars on condition I came to live in the States and showed some 
interest in his business. This prospect was most welcome to 
me. I fdt my life needed a shake-up. There was another thing, 
too: moth holes had appeared in the plush of matrimonial 
comfort. During the last weeks 1 had kept noticing that my 
fat Valeria was not her usual self; had acquired a queer rest- 
lessness; even showed something like irritation at times, which 
was quite out of keeping with the stock character she was 

27 



supposed to impersonate. When I informed her we -were short- 
ly*' 0 sail for New York, she looked distressed and bewildered. 
There were some tedious difficulties with her papers. She had 
a Nansen, or better say Nonsense, passport which for some 
reason a share in her husband’s solid Swiss citizenship could 
not easily transcend; and I decided it was the necessity of 
queuing in the prefecture, and other formalities, that had 
made her so listless, despite my patiently describing to her 
America, the country of rosy children and great trees, where 
life would be such an improvement on dull dingy Paris. 

We were coming out of some office building one morning, 
with her papers almost in order, when Valeria, as she waddled 
by my side, began to shake her poodle head vigorously without 
saying a word. I let her go on for a while and then asked if she 
thought she had something inside. She answered (I translate 
from her French which was, I imagine, a translation in its 
turn of some Slavic platitude) : “There is another man in my 
life.” 

Now, these are ugly words for a husband to hear. They 
dazed me, I confess. To beat her up in the street, there and 
then, as an honest vulgarian might have done, was not feasible. 
Years of secret sufferings had taught me superhuman self- 
control. So I ushered her into a taxi which had been invitingly 
creeping along the curb for some time, and in this comparative 
privacy I quietly suggested she comment her wild talk. A 
mounting fury was suffocating me — not because I bad any par- 
ticular fondness for that figure of fun, Mme Humbert, but be- 
cause matters of legal and illegal conjunction were for me alone 
to decide, and here she was, Valeria, the comedy wife, brazenly 
- preparing to dispose in her own way of my comfort and fate. 

I demanded her lover’s name. I repeated my question; but she 
kept up a burlesque babble, discoursing on her unhappiness 
with me and announcing plans for an immediate divorce. 
“Mais qui est-ce?” I shouted at last, striking her on the knee 
with my fist; and she, without even wincing, stared at me as if 
the answer were too simple for words, then gave a quick shrug 
and pointed at the thick neck of the taxi driver. He pulled up 
at a small cafe and introduced himself. I do not remember bis 
ridiculous name but after all those years I still see him quite 
clearly — a stocky White Russian ex-colonel with a bushy mus- 
tache and a crew cut; there were thousands of them plying 
that fool’s trade in Paris. We sat down at a table; the Tsarist 
ordered vane; and Valeria, after applying a wet napkin to her 

28 



kDee, -went on talking— into me rather than to me; she poured 
words into this dignified receptacle with a volubility I had nev- 
er suspected she had in her. And every now and then she would 
volley a burst of Slavic at her stolid lover. The situation was 
preposterous and became even more so when the taxi-colonel, 
stopping Valeria with a possessive smile, began to unfold his 
views and plans. With an atrocious accent to his careful 
French, he delineated die world of love and work into which 
he proposed to enter hand in hand with his child-wife Valeria. 
She by now- was preening herself, between him and me, roug- 
ing her pursed lips, tripling her chin to pick at her blouse- 
bosom and so forth, and he spoke of her as if she were absent, 
and also as if she were a kind of little ward that was in the act 
of being transferred, for her own good, from one wise guardian 
to another even -wiser one; and although my helpless wrath 
may have exaggerated and disfigured certain impressions, I can 
swear that he actually consulted me on such things as her diet, 
her periods, her wardrobe and the books she had read or should 
read. “I think," he said, “she wiD like Jean Christophe?” Oh, 
he was quite a scholar, Mr. Taxovich. 

I put an end to this gibberish by suggesting Valeria pack up 
her few belongings immediately, upon wbicb the platitudinous 
colonel gallantly offered to carry them into the car. Reverting 
to his professional state, he drove the Humberts to their resi- 
dence and all the way Valeria talked, and Humbert the Terrible 
deliberated with Humbert the Small whether Humbert Hum- 
bert should kill her or her lover, or both, or neither. I remem-, 
ber once handling an automatic belonging to a fellow student, 
in the days (I have not spoken of them, I think, but never 
mind) when 1 toyed with the idea of enjoying his little sister, 
a most diaphanous nymphet with a black hair bow, and then 
shooting myself. I now wondered if Valechka (as lie colonel 
called her) was really worth shooting, or strangling, or drown- 
ing. She had very vulnerable legs, and I decided I would limit 
myself to hurting her very horribly as soon as w-e w-ere alone. 

But we never were. Valechka— by now shedding torrents of 
tears tinged with the mess of her rainbow make-up, — started 
to fill anyhow a trunk, and two suitcases, and a bursting carton, 
and visions of putting on my mountain boots and taking a 
running lack at her rump were of course impossible to put into 
execution with the cursed colonel hovering around all the time. 
I cannot say he behaved insolently or anything like that; on 
the contrary, he displayed, as a small sideshow in the theat- 

29 


ricals I had been inveigled in, a discreet old-world civility 
punctuating his movements with all sorts of mispronounced 
apologies (j a i demannde pardonne— — excuse me — est-ce gue 
fai puis — may I — and so forth), arid turning away tactfully 
when Valechka took down with a flourish her pink panties from 
the clothesline above the tub; but he seemed to be all over the 
place at once, Ie gredin, agreeing his frame with the anatomy 
of the flat, reading in my chair my newspaper, untying a 
knotted string, rolling a cigarette, counting the teaspoons, 
visiting the bathroom, helping his moll to wrap up the electric 
fan her father had given her, and carrying streetward her lug- 
gage. I sat with arms folded, one hip on the window sill, dying 
of hate and boredom. At list both were out of the quivering 
apartment — the vibration of the door I had slammed after 
them still rang in my every nerve, a poor substitute for the 
backhand slap with which I ought to have hit her across the 
cheekbone according to the rules of the movies. Clumsily play- 
ing my part, I stomped to the bathroom to check if they had 
taken my English toilet water; they had not; but I noticed with 
a spasm of fierce disgust that the former Counselor of the 
Tsar, after thoroughly easing his bladder, had not flushed the 
toilet That solemn pool of alien urine with a soggy, tawny 
cigarette butt disintegrating in it struck me as a crowning 
insult and I wildly looked around for a weapon. Actually I 
daresay it was nothing but middle-class Russian courtesy (with 
an oriental tang, perhaps) that had prompted the good colonel 
(Maximovich! his name suddenly taxies back to me), a very 
formal person as they all are, to muffle his private need in de- 
corous silence so as not to underscore the small size of his host’s 
domicile with the rush of a gross cascade on top of his own 
hushed trickle. But this did not enter my mind at the moment, 
as groaning with rage I ransacked the kitchen for something 
better than a broom. Then, canceling my search, I dashed out 
of the house with the heroic decision of attacking him bare- 
fisted; despite my natural vigor, I am no pugilist, while the 
short but broad-shouldered Maximovich seemed made of pig 
iron. The void of the street, revealing nothing of my wife's 
departure except a rhinestone button that she had dropped in 
the mud after preserving it for three unnecessary years in a 
broken box, may have spared me a bloody nose. But no matter, 

I had my little revenge in due time. A man from Pasadena told 
me one day that Mrs. Maximovich n6e Zborovshi had died in 
childbirth around 1945; the couple had somehow got over to 

30 



California and Lad been nsed there, for an excellent salary, m. 
a year-long experiment conducted by a distinguished American 
ethnologist. The experiment dealt with human and racial re- 
actions to a diet of bananas and dates in a constant position 
on aD fours. My informant, a doctor, swore be had seen with 
his own eyes obese Valechka and her colonel, by- then gray- 
haired and also quite corpulent,, diligently crawling about the 
well-swept Soois of a brightly lit set of rooms (fruit in one, 
water in another, mats in a third and so on) in the company 
of several other hired quadrupeds, selected from indigent and 
helpless groups. I tried to find the results of these tests in the 
Review of Anthropology; hut they appear not to have been 
published yet These scientific products take of course some 
time to fluctuate. I hope they will be illustrated with good 
photographs when they do get printed, although it is not 
very likely that a prison library will harbor such erudite works. 
The one to which I am restricted these day's, despite my law- 
yer’s favors, is a good example of the inane eclecticism govern- 
ing the selection of boohs in prison libraries. They have the 
Bible, of course, and Dickens (an ancient set, N.Y., G. W. 
Dillingham, Publisher, MDCCCLXXXVII); and the Chil- 
dren's Encyclopedia (with some nice photographs of sunshine- 
haired Girl Scouts in shorts), and A Murder Is Announced 
by Agatha Christie; but they also have such coruscating trifles 
as A Vagabond In Italy by" Percy Elphinstone, author of 
Venice Revisited, Boston, 1868, and a comparatively recent 
(1946) Who’s Who in the Limelight — actors, producers,' 
playwrights, and shots of static scenes. In looking through the 
latter volume, I was treated last night to one of those dazzling 
coincidences that logicians loathe and poets love. I transcribe 
most of the page: 

Pym, Roland. Bom in Lundy, Mass., 1922. Received stage 
training at Elsinore Playhouse, Derby, N.Y. Made debut in. 
Sunburst. Among his many appearances are Two Blocks 
from Here, The Girl in Green, Scrambled Husbands, The 
Strange Mushroom, Touch and Go, John Lovely, I Was 
Dreaming of You. 

Quilty, Clare, American dramatist Bom in' Ocean City, 
L-l-, 1911. Educated at Columbia University. Started on a 
commercial career but turned to playwriting. Author of 
i he Little Nymph, The Lady who Loved Lightning (in 
co Liberation with Vis-fan Darkbloom), Dark Age The 

31 



Strange Mushroom, Fatherly Love, and others. His many 
plays for children are notable. Little Nymph (1940) trav- 
eled 14,000 miles and played 280 performances on the road 
during the winter before ending in New York. Hobbies: 
fast cars, photography, pets. 

Quine, Dolores. Bom in 1882, in Dayton, Ohio. Studied 
for stage at American Academy. First played in Ottawa in 
1900. Made New York debut in 1904 in Never Talk to 
Strangers. Has disappeared since in [a list of some thirty 
plays follows.] 

How the look of my dear love’s name, even affixed to some 
old hag of an actress, still makes me rock with helpless painl 
Perhaps, she might have been an actress too. Bom 1935. Ap- 
peared (I notice the slip of my pen in the preceding paragraph, 
but please do not correct it, Clarence) in The Murdered Play- 
wright. Quine the Swine. Guilty of killing QoQty. Oh, my 
Lolita, I have only words to play with! 


9 

Divorce proceedings delayed my voyage, and the gloom of 
yet another World War had settled upon the globe when, after 
a winter of ennui and pneumonia in Portugal, I at last reached 
. the States. In New York I eagerly accepted the soft job fate 
offered me: it consisted mainly of thinking up and editing per- 
fume ads. I welcomed its desultory character and pseudoliter- 
ary aspects, attending to it whenever I had nothing better to 
do. On the other hand, I was urged by a war-time university in 
New York to complete my comparative history of French 
literature for English-speaking students. The first volume took 
me a couple of years during which I put in seldom less than 
fifteen hours of work daily. As I look back on those days, I see 
them divided tidily into ample light and narrow shade: the 
light pertaining to the solace of research in palatial libraries, 
the shade to my excruciating desires and insomnias of which 
enough has been said. Knowing me by now, the reader can 
easily imagine how dusty and hot I got, trying to catch a 
glimpse of nymphets (alas, always remote) playing in Central 

32 



y 

Park, and how repulsed I was by the glitter of deodorized • 1 
career girls that a gay dog in one of the offices kept unloading 
upon me. Let us skip all that A dreadful breakdown sent me 
to a sanatorium for more than a year, I went back to my work 
— only to be hospitalized again. . 

Robust outdoor life seemed to promise me some relief. One 
of my favorite doctors, a charming cynical chap with a little 
brown beard, had a brother, and this brother was about to lead ; 
an expedition into arctic Canada. I was attached to it as a 
“recorder of psychic reactions.” With two young botanists, 
and an old carpenter I shared now and then (never very suc- 
cessfully) the favors of one of our nutritionists, a Dr. Anita 
Johnson — who was soon flown hack, I am glad to say. I had 
little notion of what object the expedition was pursuing. Judg- 
ing by the number of meteorologists upon it, we may have 
been tracking to its lair (somewhere on Prince of Wales' Is- 
land, I understand) the wandering and wobbly north mag- 
netic pole. One group, jointly with the Canadians, established 
a weather station on Pierre Point in Melville Sound. Another 
group, equally misguided, collected plankton.. A third studied 
tuberculosis in the tundra. Bert, a film photographer — an in- 
secure fellow with whom at one time I was made to partake - 
in a good deal of menial work (he, too, had some psychic 
troubles) — maintained that the big men on our team, the real j 
leaders we never saw, were mainly engaged in checking the in- j 
fluence of climatic amelioration on the coats of the arctic fox. 

We lived in prefabricated timber cabins amid a Pre-CatUr 
brian world of granite. We had heaps of supplies — the Read- 
er’s Digest, an ice cream mixer, chemical toilets, paper caps 
for Christmas. My health improved wonderfully in spite or 
because of all the fantastic blankness and boredom. Sur- 
rounded by such dejected vegetation as willow. scrub and 
lichens; permeated, and, I suppose, cleansed by a whistling j 

gale; seated on a boulder under a completely translucent sky j 

(through which, however, nothing of importance showed), I i 

felt curiously aloof from my own self. No temptations mad- j 

dened me. The plump, glossy little Eskimo girls with their j 

fish smell, hideous raven hair and guinea pig faces, evoked | 

c\cn less desire in me than Dr. Johnson had. Nymphets do j 

not occur in polar regions. 

I left my betters the task of analyzing glacial drifts, drum- 
j • an ° gremlins, and kremlins, and for a time tried to jot 
down what I fondly thought were “reactions" (I noticed, for 

33 


- instance, that dreams under the midnight sun tended to be 
highly colored, and this my friend the photographer con- 
firmed). I was also supposed to quiz my various companions 
.on a number of important matters, such as nostalgia, fear of 
unknown animals, food-fantasies, nocturnal emissions, hob- 
bies, choice of radio programs, changes m outlook and so 
forth. Everybody got so fed up with this that I soon dropped 
the project completely, and only toward the end of my twenty 
months of cold labor (as one of the botanists jocosely put it) 
concocted a-perfectly spurious and very racy report that the 
reader will find published in the Anna Is of Adult Psycho- 
physics for 1945 or 1946, as well as in the issue of Arctic 
Explorations devoted to that particular expedition; which, in 
conclusion, was not really concerned with Victoria Island 
copper or anything like that, as I learned later from my genial 
doctor; for the nature of its real purpose was what is termed 
“hush-hush,” and so let me add merely that whatever it was, 
that purpose was admirably achieved. 

The reader will regret to learn that soon after my return to 
civilization I had another bout with insanity (if to melancholia 
and a sense of insufferable oppression that cruel term must be 
applied). I owe my complete restoration to a discovery I made 
while being treated at that particular very expensive sanato- 
rium. I discovered there was an endless source of robust en- 
joyment in trifling with psychiatrists: cunningly leading them 
on; never letting them see that you know all the tricks of the 
trade; inventing for them elaborate dreams, pure classics in style 
(which make them, the dream-extortionists, dream and wake 
up shrieking); teasing them with fake “primal scenes”; and 
never allowing them the slightest glimpse of one’s real sexual 
-predicament. By bribing a nurse I won access to some files and 
discovered, with glee, cards calling me “potentially homo- 
sexual” and “totally impotent.” The sport was so excellent, 
its results — in my case — so ruddy that I stayed on for a whole 
month after I was quite well (sleeping admirably and eating 
like a schoolgirl). And then I added another week just for the 
pleasure of taking on a powerful newcomer, a displaced (and, 
surely, deranged) celebrity, known for his knack of making 
patients believe they had witnessed their own conception. 


34 


10 


Ukw sicning our, I cast around for some place in the New 
England countryside or sleepy small town (elms, white 
church) where I could spend a studious summer subsisting 
on a compact boxful of notes I had accumulated and bathing 
in some nearby lake. My work had begun to interest me again 
— I mean my scholarly exertions; the other thing, my active 
participation in my uncle’s posthumous perfumes, had by then 
been cut down to a minimum. 

One of his former employees, the scion of a distinguished 
family, suggested X spend a few months in the residence of his' 
impoverished cousins, a Mr. McCoo, retired, and his wife, who 
wanted to let their upper story where a late aunt had delicately 
dwelt He said they had two little daughters, one a baby, the 
other a girl of twelve, and a beautiful garden, not far from a 
beautiful lake, and I said it sounded perfectly perfect 

I exchanged letters with these people, satisfying them I was 
housebroken, and spent a fantastic night on the train, imagin- 
ing in all possible detail the enigmatic nymphet I would coach 
in French and fondle in Humbertish. Nobody met me at the 
toy station where I alighted with my new expensive bag, and 
nobody answered the telephone; eventually, however, a dis- 
traught McCoo in wet clothes turned up at the only hotel of, 
green-and-pink Ramsdale with the news that his house had 
fust burned down — possibly, owing to the synchronous con- 
flagration that had been raging all night in my veins. His 
family, he said, had fled to a farm he owned, and had taken 
the car, but a friend of his wife’s, a grand person, Mrs. Haze 
of 342 Lawn Street, offered to accommodate me. A lady who 
lived opposite Mrs. Haze’s had lent McCoo her limousine, a 
marvelously old-fashioned, square-topped affair, manned by a 
cheerful Negro. Now, since the only reason for my coming 
at all had vanished, the aforesaid arrangement seemed prepos- 
terous. All right, his house would have to be completely re- 
built, so what? Had he not insured it sufficiently? I was angry, 
disappointed and bored, but being a polite European, could 
not refuse to be sent off to Lawn Street in that funeral car, 
xcc.ing that otherwise McCoo would devise an even more 
elaborate means of getting rid of me, I saw him scamper away, 

35 



and my chauffeur shoolc his head with a soft chuckle. En route, 
I swore to myself I would not dream of staying in Ramsdale 
under any circumstance but would' fly that very day to the 
'Bermudas or the Bahamas or the Blazes. Possibilities of sweet- 
ness on technicolor beaches had been triclding through my 
spine for some time before, and McCoo’s cousin had, in fact, 
sharply diverted that train of thought with his well-meaning 
but as it transpired now absolutely inane suggestion. 

Speaking of sharp turns: we almost ran over a meddlesome 
suburban dog (one of those who lie in wait for cars) as we 
swerved into Lawn Street. A little further, the Haze house, a 
white-frame horror, appeared, looking dingy and old, more 
gray than white — the kind of place you know will have a rub- 
ber tube affixable to the tub faucet in lieu of shower. I tipped 
the chauffeur and hoped he would immediately drive away so 
that I might double back unnoticed to my hotel and bag; 
but the man merely crossed to the other side of the street 
where an old lady was calling to him from her porch. What 
could I do? I pressed the bell button. 

A colored maid let me in — and left me standing on the mat 
while she rushed back to. the kitchen where something was 
burning that ought not to bum. 

- . The front hall was graced with door chimes, a white-eyed 
wooden thingamabob of commercial Mexican origin, and that 
banal darling of the arty middle class, van Gogh’s "Arl6s- 
ienne." A door ajar to the right afforded a glimpse of a living 
room, with some more Mexican trash in a comer cabinet and a 
striped sofa along the wall. There was a staircase at the end 
of the hallway, and as I stood mopping my brow (only now 
did I realize how hot it had been out-of-doors) and staring, to 
stare at something, at an old gray tennis ball that lay on an 
oak chest, there came from the npper landing the contralto 
voice of Mrs. Haze, who leaning over the banisters inquired 
melodiously, “Is that Monsieur Humbert?” A bit of cigarette 
ash dropped from there in addition. Presently, the lady her- 
self — sandals, maroon slacks, yellow silk blouse, squarish face, 
in -that order — came down die steps, her index finger still 
tapping upon her cigarette. 

I think I had better describe her right away, to get it over 
with. The poor lady was in her middle thirties, she had a shiny 
forehead, plucked eyebrows and quite simple but not unattrac- 
tive features of a type that may be defined as a weak solution cf 
Marlene Dietrich. Patting her bronze-brown bun, she led me 

36 


into the parlor and we talked for a minute about the McCoo 
fire and the privilege of living in Ramsdale. Her very wide-set 
sea-green eyes had a funny way of traveling all over you, care- 
fully avoiding your own eyes. Her smile was but a quizzical 
jerk of one eyebrow; and uncoiling herself from the sofa as she 
talked, she kept making spasmodic dashes at three ashtrays 
and the near fender (where lay the brown core of an apple); 
whereupon she would sink back again, one leg folded under 
her. She was, obviously, one of those women whose polished 
words may reflect a book club or bridge club, or any other 
deadly conventionality, but never her soul; women who are 
completely devoid of humor; women utterly indifferent at 
heart to the dozen or so possible subjects of a parlor con- 
versation, but very particular about the rules of such con- 
versations, through the sunny cellophane of which not very 
appetizing frustrations can be readily distinguished. I was 
perfectly aware that if by any wild chance I became ber 
lodger, sbe would methodically proceed to do in regard to me 
what taking a lodger probably meant to her all along, and I 
would again be enmeshed in one of those tedious affairs I knew 
so well. 

But there was no question of my settling there. I could not 
be happy in that type of household with bedraggled magazines 
on every chair and a kind of horrible hybridization between 
the comedy of so-called "functional modem furniture” and the 
tragedy of decrepit rockers and rickety lamp tables with dead 
lamps. I was led upstairs, and to the left — into "my” room. I* 
inspected it through the mist of my utter rejection of it; hut I 
did discern above "my” bed Ren6 Prinet’s "Kreutzer Sonata.” 
And she called that servant maid’s room a "semi-studio"l Let's 
get out of here at once, I firmly said to myself as I pretended 
to deliberate over the absurdly, and ominously, low' price that 
my wistful hostess was asking for board and bed. 

Old-world politeness, however, obliged me to go on with the 
ordeal. We crossed the landing to the right side of the house 
(where "I and Lo have our rooms” — Lo being presumably the 
maid), and the lodger-loser could hardly conceal a shudder 
when he, a very fastidious male, was granted a preview of the 
only bathroom, a tiny oblong between the landing and "Lo’s” 
room, with limp wet things overhanging the dubious tub (the 
question mark of a hair inside); and there were the expected 
coils of the rubber snake, and its complement— a pinkish 
cozy, coyly covering the toilet lid. 

37 



"I see you are not too favorably impressed" said the lady 
letting her hand rest for a moment upon my sleeve: she com- 
bined a cool forwardness — the overflow of what I think is 
called poise ' — with a shyness and sadness that caused her 
detached way of selecting- her words to seem as unnatural as 
the intonation of a professor of “speech.” “This is not a neat 
household, I confess,” the doomed dear continued, "but I 
assure you [she looked at my lips], you will be very comfort- 
able, very comfortable, indeed. Let me show you the garden” 
(the last more brightly, with a land of winsome toss of the 
voice) . 

Reluctantly I followed her downstairs again; then through 
the kitchen at the end of the hall, on the right side of the 
. house- -the side where also the dining room and the parlor 
were (under “my” room, on the left, there was nothing but a 
garage). In the kitchen, the Negro maid, a plump youngish 
woman said, as she took her large glossy black purse from the 
knob of the door leading to the back porch: ‘Til go now, Mrs. 
Haze.” “Yes, Louise,” answered Mrs. Haze with a sigh. “I'll 
settle with you Friday.” We passed on to a small pantry and 
entered the dining room, parallel to the- parlor we had already 
admired. I noticed a white sock on the floor. With a depreca- 
tory grunt, Mrs. Haze stooped without stopping and threw it 
into a closet next to the pantry. We cursorily inspected a ma- 
hogany table with a fruit vase in the middle, containing noth- 
ing but the still glistening stone of one plum. I groped for the 
timek ble I had in my pocket and surreptitiously fished it out 
to look as soon as possible for a train. I was still walking be- 
hind Mrs. Haze through the dining room when, beyond it, 
there came a sudden burst of greenery — “the piazza,” sang 
out my leader, and then, without the least warning, a blue 
sea-wave swelled under my heart and, from a mat in a pool 
of sun, half-naked, kneeling, turning about on her knees, there 
.was rm Riviera love peering at me over dark glasses. 

It was the same child — the same frail, honey-hued shoulders, 
the same silk}' supple bare back, the same chestnut head of 
hair. A polka-dotted black kerchief tied around her chest hid 
from my aging ape eyes, but not from the gaze of young 
memory, the juvenile breasts I had fondled one immortal day. 
And, as if I were the fairy-tale nurse of some little princess 
(lost, kidnaped, discovered in gypsy rags through which her 
nakedness smiled at the king and his hounds), I recognized 
the tiny dark-brown mole on her side. With awe and delight 

38 



4 .; 

r 

(the king crying for joy, the trumpets blaring, the nurse 
drunk) I saw again her lovely indrawn abdomen where my 
southbound mouth had briefly paused; and those puerile hips 
on which I had kissed the crenulated imprint left by the band 
of her shorts— that last triad immortal day behind the “Roches 
Roses.” The twenty-five years I had lived since then* tapered 
to a palpitating point, and vanished. 

I find it most difficult to express with adequate force that 
flash, that shiver, that impact of passionate recognition. In the 
course of the sun-shot moment that my glance slithered over 
the kneeling child (her eyes blinking over those stem dark 
spectacles— the little Herr Doktor who was to cure me of all 
my aches) while I passed by her in my adult disguise (a great 
big handsome hunk of movieland manhood), the vacuum of 
my soul managed to suck in every detail of her bright beauty, 
and these 1 checked against the features of my dead bride. A 
little later, of course, she, this nouvelle, this Lolita, my Lolita, 
was to eclipse completely her prototype. All I want to stress is 
that my discover}' of her was a fatal consequence of that 
"princedom by the sea" in my tortured past. Everything be- 
tween the two events was but a series of gropings and blunders, 
and false rudiments of joy. Everything they shared made one 
of them. 

I have no illusions, however. My judges will Tegaid all this as f 
a piece of mummery on the part of a madman with a gross 
liking for the fruit vert. Au fond, pa m’est bien 6gal. All I 
know is that while the Haze woman and I went down the steps' 
into the breathless garden, my knees were like reflections of 
knees in rippling water, and my lips were like sand, and — 

"That was my Lo,” she said, "and these are my lilies." 

"Yes," I said, “yes. They axe beautiful, beautiful, beautifull" 

l ! 

fc 


11 


Exhibit number two is a pocket diary bound in black imita- 
non leather, with a golden year, 1 947, en escah'er, in its upper 
left-hand corner. I speak of this neat product of the Blank 
clank Co, Bhnkton, Mass., as if it were really before me. 
Actually, it was destroyed five years ago and what we examine 


39 


now (by courtesy of a photographic memory) is but its brief 
materialization, a puny unfledged phoenix. 

I remember, the thing so exactly because I wrote it really 
twice. First I jotted down each entry in pencil (with many 
erasures and corrections) on the leaves of what is commercially 
know as a “typewriter tablet”; then; I copied it out with ob- 
vious abbreviations in my smallest, most satanic, hand in the 
little black book just mentioned. 

May 30 is a Fast Day by Proclamation in New Hampshire 
but not in the Carolinas. That day an epidemic of “abdominal 
flu” (whatever that is) forced. Ramsdale to close its schools 
for the summer. The reader may check the weather data in the 
Ran-sdah Journal for 1947. A few days before that I moved 
into tht Haze house, and the little diary which I now propose 
to reel off (much as a spy delivers by heart the contents of the 
note he swallowed) covers most of June. 

Thursday. Very warm day. From a vantage point (bathroom 
window) saw Dolores taking things off a clothesline in the 
applf free) < light behind the house. Strolled out. She wore a 
plaid shirt blue jeans and sneakers. Every movement she 
mad< in the dappled sun plucked at the most secret and sensi- 
tive chord of my abject body. After a while she sat down next 
to mp on the lower step of, the back porch and began to pick 
up thf pebbles between her feet — pebbles, my God, then a 
curled bit of milk-bottle glass resembling a snarling lip — and 
chuck them at a can. Ping. You can’t a second time — you can't 
hit it — this is agony — a second time. Ping. Marvelous skin — 
oh, marvelous: tender and tanned, not the least blemish. Sun- 
daes rau.v acne. The excess of the oily substance called sebum 
which nourishes the hair follicles of the skin creates, when too 
profuse an irritation that opens the way to infection. But 
nyn 'Whets do not have acne although thev gorge themselves 
on rich food. God, what agony, that silks' shimmer above her 
tern pi ( grading into bright brown hair. And the little bone 
twitchinp at the side of her dust-powdered ankle. “The McCoo 
girP Cjnnx McCoo? Oh, she’s a fright. And mean. And lame. 
Neariv died of polio.” Ping. The glistening tracery of down on 
her forearm. When she got up to take in the wash, I had a 
chancf of adoring from afar the faded seat of her rolled-up 
jeans. Out of the lawn, bland Mrs. Haze,- complete with cam- 
era, grew up like a fakir’s fake tree and after some heliotropic 
fussinr- -sad eyes up, glad eyes down — had the cheek of taking 
my picture as I sat blinking on the steps, Humbert Ie Bel. 

40 



Friday. Saw her going somewhere with a dark girl called 
Rose. Why does the way 'she walks — a child, mind you, a mete 
child! — excite me so abominably? Analyze it A faint sug- 
gestion of turned in toes. A kind of wiggly looseness below toe 
knee prolonged to the end of each footfall. The ghost of a 
drag. Very infantile, infinitely meretricious. Humbert Hum- j 
bert is also infinitely moved by the little one's slangy, speech, . -I 
by her harsh high voice. Later heard her volley crude, nonsense 
at Rose across the fence. Twanging through me in a rising 
rhythm. Pause. “I must go now, Idddo.” . 

Saturday. (Beginning perhaps amended.) I knoyr it is mad- 
ness to keep this journal but it gives me a strange thrill to do 
so; and only a loving wife could decipher my microscopic 
script. Let me state with a sob that today my L. was sun-bath^ 
ing on the so-called “piazza," but her mother and some other, 
women were around all the time. Of course,- 1 might have sat 
there in the rocker and pretended to read. Haying safe, I kept 
away, for I was afraid that the horrible, insane, ridiculous and 
pitiful tremor that palsied me might prevent me'from making 
my entire with any semblance of casualness. 

Sunday. Heat ripple still with ns; a most favonian week. 
This time I took up a strategic position, with obese newspaper 
and new pipe, in the piazza rocker before L. arrived. To my in- 
tense disappointment she came with her mother, both in two- 
piece bathing suits, black, as new as my pipe. My darling, my 
sweetheart stood for a moment near me — wanted the funnies : 
—and she smelt almost exactly like the other one, the Rivierg 
one, but more intensely so, with rougher overtones— a torrid 
odor that at once set my manhood astir — hut she had already 
junked out of me the coveted section and Tetreated to her mat 
near her phocine mamma. There my beauty lay down on her 
stomach, showing me, showing toe thousand eyes wide open 
in my eyed blood, her slightly raised shoulder blades, and the 
bloom along the incurvation of her spine, and the swellings of 
her tense narrow nates clothed in black, and the seaside of her 
schoolgirl thighs. Silently, ' the seventh-grader enjoyed her 
gTCcn-rcd-blue comics. She was the loveliest nymphet green- 
rca-blue Priap himself could think up. As I looked on, through 
prismatic layers of light, dry-lipped, focusing my lust and rock- 
ing slightly under my newspaper, 1 felt that my perception of 
her, if properly concentrated upon, might be sufficient to have 
me attain a beggar’s bliss immediately; but, like some predator 
P rcfcrs a moving prey to a motionless one, I planned to 
41 


have this pitiful attainment coincide with one of the various 
girlish movements she made now and then as she read, such as 
trying to scratch the middle of her hack and revealing a 
stippled armpit — but fat Haze suddenly spoiled everything by 
turning to me and asking me for a light, and starting a mak<> 
believe conversation about a fake book by some popular fraud. 

Monday. Ddectatio moiosa. I spend my doleful days in 
dumps and dolors. We (mother Haze, Dolores and I) were to 
go to Our Glass Lake this afternoon, and bathe, and bask; but 
a nacreous mom degenerated at noon into rain, and Lo made 
a scene. 

The median age of pubescence for girls has been found to 
be thirteen years and nine months in New York and Chicago. 
The age varies for individuals from ten, or earlier, to seventeen. 
Virginia was not quite fourteen when Harry Edgar possessed 
her. He gave her lessons in algebra. Je m' imagine cela. They 
spent their honeymoon at Petersburg, Fla. "Monsieur Poe- 
poe,” as that boy in one of Monsieur Humbert Humbert's 
classes in Paris called the poet-poet. 

I have all the characteristics which, according to writers on 
the sex interests of children, start the responses stirring in a 
little girl: clean-cut jaw, muscular hand, deep sonorous voice, 
broad shoulder. Moreover, I am said to resemble some crooner 
or actor chap on whom Lo has a crush. 

Tuesday. Rain. Lake of the Rains. Mamma out shopping, 
L., I knew, was somewhere quite near. In result of some 
stealthy maneuvering, I came across her in her mother's bed- 
room. Prying her left eye open to get rid of a speck of some 
thing. Checked frock. Although I do love that intoxicating 
brown fragrance of hers, I really think she should wash her hair 
once in a while. For a moment, we were both in the same 
warm green bath of the mirror that reflected the top of a 
poplar with us in the sky. Held her roughly by the shoulders, 
then tenderly by the temples, and turned her about. It s right 
there,” she said, "I can feel it” "Swiss peasant would use the 
top of her tongue,” “Lick it out?” "Yeth, Sbly try? Sure, 
she said. Gently I pressed my quivering stingy along her rolling 
salty eyeball. "Goody-goody,” she said nictating. “It is gone. 
“Now the other?” "You dope,” she began, “there is noth—” 
but here she noticed the pucker of my approaching lips. 
"Okay," she said co-operatively, and bending toward her warm 
upturned russet face somber Humbert pressed his mouth to 
her fluttering eyelid. She laughed, and brushed past me out of 

42 



the room. My heart seemed everywhere at once. Never in my 
life — not even when fondling my child-love in France — 
never — 

Night. Never have I experienced such agony. I would Ifke 
to describe her face, her ways — and I cannot, because my own 
desire for- her blinds me when she is near. I am not used to 
being with nymphets, damn it. If I close my eyes I see but an 
immobilized fraction of her, a cinematographic still, a sudden 
smooth nether loveliness, as with one knee up under her tartan 
shirt she sits tying her shoe. “Dolores Haze, ne montrez pas 
vos zhambes” (this is her mother who thinks she knows 
French). 

A poet h mes heures, I composed a madrigal to the soot- 
black lashes of her pale-gray vacant eyes, to the five asymmetri- 
cal freckles of her bobbed nose, to the blond down of her 
brown limbs; but I tore it up and cannot recall it today. Only 
in the tritest of terms (diary resumed) can I describe Lo’s 
features: I might say her hair is aubum, and her lips as red as 
licked red candy, the lower one prettily plump — oh, that I 
were a lady writer who could have her pose naked in a naked 
light! But instead I am lanky, big-boned, woolly-chested Hum- 
bert Humbert, with thick black eyebrows and a queer accent, 
and a cesspoolful of rotting monsters behind his slow boyish 
smile. And neither is she the fragile child of a feminine novel. 
What drives me insane is the twofold nature of this nymphet 
— of every nymphet, perhaps; this mixture in my Lolita of 
tender dreamy childishness and a kind of eerie vulgarity', stem- 
ming from the snub-nosed cuteness of ads and magazine pic- 
tures, from the blurry pinkness of adolescent maidservants in 
the Old Country (smelling of crushed daisies and sweat); and 
from very young harlots disguised as children in provincial 
brothels; and then again, all this gets mixed up with the ex- 
quisite stainless tenderness seeping through the musk and the 
mud, through the dirt and the death, oh God, oh God. And 
what is most singular is that she, this Lolita, my Lolita, has in- 
dividualized the writer’s ancient lust, so that above and over 
everything there is — Lolita. 

Wednesday. “Look, make Mother take you and me to Our 
Glass Lake tomorrow.” These were the textual words said to 
me by my twelve-year-old flame in a voluptuous whisper, as 
we happened to bump into one another on the front porch, I 
out, she in. The reflection of the afternoon sun, a dazzling 
white diamond with innumerable iridescent spikes quivered 

43 



On the round back of a parked car. The leafage of a voluminous 
elm played its mellow shadows upon the clapboard wall of 
the house. Two poplars shivered and shook. You could make 
out the formless sounds of remote traffic; a child calling 
“Nancy, Nan-cy!” In the house, Lolita had put- on her favorite 
“Little Carmen” record which I used to call “Dwarf Con- 
ductors,” making her snort with mock derision at my mock 
wit 

Thursday. Last night we sat on the piazza, the Haze woman, 
Lolita and I. Warm dusk had deepened into amorous darkness. 
The old girl had finished relating in great detail the plot of a 
movie she and L. had seen sometime in the winter. The boxer 
had fallen extremely low when he met the good old priest 
(who had been a boxer himself in his robust youth and could 
still slug a sinner). We sat on cushions heaped on the floor, 
and L. was between the woman and me (she had squeezed 
herself in, the pet) . In my turn, 3 launched upon a hilarious 
account of my arctic adventures. The muse of invention 
handed me a rifle and I shot a white bear who sat down and 
said: Ah! AH the while I was acutely aware of L.’s nearness and 
as I spoke I gestured in the merciful dark and took advantage 
of those invisible gestures of mine /to touch her hand, her 
shoulder and a ballerina of wool and gauze which she played 
with and kept sticking into my lap; and finally, when I had 
completely enmeshed my glowing darling in this weave of 
ethereal caresses, I dared stroke her bare leg along the goose- 
.berry fuzz of her shin, and I chuckled at my own jokes, and 
trembled, and concealed my tremors, and once or twice felt 
with my rapid lips the warmth of her hair as I treated her to a 
quick nuzzling, humorous aside and caressed her plaything. 
She, too, fidgeted a good deal so that finally her mother told 
her sharply to quit it and sent the doll flying into the dark, 
and I laughed and addressed myself to Haze across Lo’s legs 
to let my hand creep up my nymphet’s thin back and feel her 
skin through her boy’s shirt. 

But I knew it was all hopeless, and was sick with longing, 
and my clothes felt miserably tight, and I was almost^glad 
when her mother’s quiet voice announced in the dark: “And 
now r we all think that Lo should gcr to bed.” ‘I think you 
stink,” said Lo; "Which means there will be no picnic tomor- 
row,” said Haze. “This is a free country,” said Lo. When angry 
Lo with a Bronx cheer had gone, I stayed on from sheer in- 
ertia, while Haze smoked her tenth cigarette of the evening 
and complained of Lo. 


44 



She had been spiteful, if you please, at the age of one, when 
she used to throw her toys out of her crib so that her poor 
mother should keep picking them up, the villainous infantl 
Now, at twelve, she was a regular pest, said Haze. AH she 
wanted from life was to be one day a strutting and prancing 
baton twirler or a jitterbug. Her grades were poor, but she was 
better adjusted in her new school than in Pisky (Pisky was the 
Haze home town in the Middle West. The Ramsdale house 
was her late mother-in-law’s. They had moved to Ramsdale less 
than two years ago). “Why was she unhappy there?” “Oh,” 
said Haze, “poor me should know, I went through that when 
I was a kid: boys twisting one’s arm, banging into one with 
loads of books, pulling one’s hair, hurting one’s breasts, flip- 
ping one’s skirt. Of course, moodiness is a common concomi- 
tant of growing up, but Lo exaggerates. Sullen and evasive. 
Rude and defiant. Stuck Viola, an Italian schoolmate, in the 
seat with- a fountain pen. Know what I would like? If you, 
monsieur, happened to be still here in the fall. I'd ask you to 
help her with her homework — you seem to know everything, 
geography, mathematics, French.” "Oh, everything,” answered 
monsieur. “That means," said Haze quickly, “vouHl be herel” 

I wanted to shout that I would stay on eternally if only I could 
hope to caress now and then my incipient pupil. But I was 
wary of Haze. So I just grunted and stretched my limbs non- 
concomitantly (Je wot juste ) and presently went up to my 
room. The woman, however, was evidently not prepared to 
call it a day. I was already lying upon my cold bed both hands > 
pressing to my face Lolita's fragrant ghost when I heard my 
indefatigable landlady creeping stealthily up to my door to 
whisper through it — just to make sure, she said, I was through 
with the Glance and Gulp magazine I had borrowed the other 
day. From her room Lo yelled she had it. We are quite a 
lending library in .this house, thunder of God. 

Friday. I wonder what my academic publishers would say 
if I were to quote in my textbook Ronsard's “la vcrmcillcttc 
fente" or Remy Belleau’s “un petit wont feutrd de mousse 
ddlicatc, tracd sur le milieu d’un fillet cscartette ” and so forth. 
I shall probably have another breakdown if I stay any longer in 
this house, under the strain of this intolerable temptation, by 
the side of my darling — my darling — my life and my bride. Has 
she already been initiated by mother nature to tire Mystery of 
the Mcnarchc? Bloated feeling. The Curse of the Irish. Falling 
from the roof. Grandma is visiting. "Mr. Uterus jl quote from 
a girls’ magazine] starts to build a thick soft wall on the chance 

45 



a possible baby may have to be bedded down there." The tiny 
madman in his padded cell. 

incidentally: if I ever commit a serious murder . . . Mark the 
"if.” The urge should be something more than the kind of 
thing that happened to me with Valeria. Carefully mark that 
the n l was rather inept. If and when you wish to sizzle me to 
death, remember that only a spell of insanity could ever give 
me the simple energy to be a brute (all this amended, per- 
haps) . Sometimes I attempt to kill in my dreams. But do you 
know what happens? For instance I hold a gun. For instance I 
aim at a bland, quietly interested enemy. Oh, I press the trig- 
ger all right, but one bullet after another feebly drops on the 
floor from the sheepish muzzle. In those dreams, my only 
thought is to conceal the fiasco from my foe, who is slowly 
growing annoyed. 

At dinner tonight the old cat said to me with a sidelong 
gleam of motherly mockery directed at Lo (I had just been 
describing, in a flippant vein, the delightful little toothbrush 
mustache I had not quite decided to grow) : "Better don't, if 
somebody is not to go absolutely dotty.” Instantly Lo pushed 
her plate of boiled fish away, all but knocking her milk over, 
and bounced out of the dining room. "Would it bore you very 
much,” quoth Haze, "to come with us tomorrow for a swim in 
Our Glass Lake if Lo apologizes for her manners?” 

Later, I heard a great banging of doors and other sounds 
coming from quaking caverns where the two rivals were having 
.a ripping row. 

She has not apologized. The lake is out. It might have been 
fun. 

Saturday. For some days already I had been leaving the door 
ajar, while I wrote in my room; but only today did the trap 
work. With a good deal of additional fidgeting, shuffling, scrap- 
ing — to disguise her embarrassment at visiting me without 
having been called — Lo came in and after pottering around, 
became interested in the nightmare curlicues I had penned on 
a sheet of paper. Oh no: they were not the outcome of a belle- 
Iettrist’s inspired pause between two paragraphs; they were the 
hideous hieroglyphics (which she could not decipher) of my 
fatal lust As she bent her brown curls over the desk at which 
I was sitting, Humbert the Hoarse put his arm around her in a 
miserable imitation of blood-relationship; and still studying, 
somewhat shortsightedly, the piece of paper she held, my inno- 
cent little visitor slowly sank to a half-sitting position upon my 

46 



knee. Her adorable profile, parted lips, -warm hair were some 
three inches from my bared eyetooth; and I felt the heat of 
her limbs through her rough tomboy clothes. All at once I 
knew I could kiss her throat or the wick of her mouth with 
perfect impunity. I knew she would let me do so, and even 
dose her eyes as Hollywood teaches. A double vanilla with hot 
fudge — hardly more unusual than that. I cannot tell my 
learned reader (whose eyebrows, I suspect, have by now 
travded all the way to the back of his bald bead), I cannot 
tell him how the knowledge came to me; perhaps my ape-ear 
had unconsciously caught some slight change in the rhythm of 
her respiration — for now she was not really looking at my scrib- 
ble, but waiting with curiosity and composure — oh, my limpid 
nymphetl— for the glamorous lodger to do what he was dying 
to do. A modem child, an avid reader of mode magazines, an 
expert in dream-slow dose-ups, might not think it too strange, 

I guessed, if a handsome, intensely virile grown-up friend — too 
late. The house was suddenly vibrating with voluble Louise’s 
voice telling Mrs. Haze who had just come home about a dead 
something she and Leslie Tomson had found in the basement, 
and little Lolita was not one to miss such a tale. 

Sunday. Changeful, bad-tempered, cheerful, awkward, grace- 
ful with the tart grace of her coltish subteens, excruciatingly 
desirable from head to foot (all New England for a lady- writ- 
er’s pen!), from the black ready-made bow and bobby pins 
holding her hair in place to the little scar on the lower part of 
her neat calf (where a roller-skater kicked her in Pisky), a. 
couple of inches above her rough white sock. Gone with her 
mother to the Hamiltons — a birthday party or something. 
Full-skirted gingham frock. Her little doves seem well formed 
already. Precocious pet! 

Monday. Rainy morning. "Ccs matins g ris si doux . . My 
white pajamas have a lilac design on the back. I am like one 
of thosi inflated pale spiders you see in old gardens. Sitting in 
the middle of a luminous web and giving little jerks to this or 
that stand. My web is spread all over the house as 1 listen 
from my chair where I sit like a wily wizard. Is Lo in her room? 
Gently I tug on the silk. She is not. Just heard the toilet paper 
cylinder make its staccato sound as it is turned; and no footfalls 
has my outflung filament traced from the bathroom back to her 
room. Is she still brushing her teeth (the only sanitary act Lo 
performs with real zest)? No. The bathroom door has just 
slammed, so one has to feel elsewhere about the bouse for the 

47 



beautiful warm-colored prey. Let us have a strand of silk 
descend the stairs. I satisfy myself by this means that she is 
not in the kitchen — not banging the refrigerator door or 
screeching at her detested mamma (who, I suppose, is enjoy- 
ing her third, cooing and subduedly mirthful, telephone con- 
versation of the morning) . Well, let us grope and hope. Ray- 
like, I glide in thought to the parlor and find the radio silent 
(and mamma still talking to Mrs. Chatfield or Mrs. Hamilton, 
very softly, flushed, smiling, cupping the telephone with her 
free hand, denying by implication that she denies those amus- 
ing rumors, rumor, roomer, whispering intimately, as she never 
does, the clear-cut lady, in face to face talk) . So my nymphet is 
not in the house at all! Gone! What I thought was a prismatic 
weave turns out to be but an old gray cobweb, the house is 
empty, is dead. And then comes Lolita’s soft sweet chuckle 
through my half-open door 'Don’t tell Mother but I’ve eaten 
all your bacon.” Gone when I scuttle out of my room. Lolita, 
where are you? My breakfast tray, lovingly prepared by my 
landlady, leers at me toothlessly, ready to be taken in. Lola, 
Lolita! 

Tuesday. Clouds again interfered with that picnic on that 
unattainable lake. Is it Fate scheming? Yesterday I tried on 
before the mirror a new pair of bathing trunks. 

Wednesday. In the afternoon. Haze (common-sensical shoes, 
tailor-made dress), said she was driving downtown to buy a 
present for a friend of a friend of hers, and would I please come 
.too because I have such a wonderful taste in textures and per- 
fumes. “Choose your favorite seduction,” she purred. What 
could Humbert, being in the perfume business, do? She had 
me cornered between the front porch and her car. “Hurry up,” 
she said as I laboriously doubled up my large body in order to 
crawl in (still desperately devising a means of escape) . She 
had started the engine, and was genteelly swearing at a backing 
and turning truck in front that had just brought old invalid 
Miss Opposite a brand new wheel chair, when my Lolita’s 
sharp voice came from the parlor window: “You! Where are 
you going? I’m coming too! Wait!” “Ignore her,” yelped Haze 
(killing the motor); alas for my fair driver; Lo was^ already 
pulling at the door on my side, “This is intolerable,”^ began 
Haze; but Lo had scrambled in, shivering with glee. “Move 
your bottom, you,” said Lo. “Lo!” cried Haze (sideglanring at 
me, hoping I would throw rude Lo out). “And behold,” said 
Lo (not for the first time) , as she jerked back, as I jerked back, 

48 



as the cai leapt forward. “It is intolerable,” said Haze, violently 
getting into second, "that a child should be so ill-mannered. 
And so very persevering. When she knows she is unwanted. 
And needs a bath 

My knuckles lay against the child’s blue jeans. She was bare- 
footed; her toenails showed remnants of cherry-red polish and 
there was a bit of adhesive tape across her big toe; and, God, 
what would I not have given to kiss then and there those deli- 
cate-boned, long-toed, monkeyish feetl Suddenly her hand 
slipped into mine and without our chaperon’s seeing, I held, 
and stroked, and squeezed that little hot paw, all the way to 
the store. The wings of the driver’s Marlenesque nose shone, 
having shed or burned up their ration of powder, and she kept 
up an elegant monologue anent the local traffic, and smiled in 
profile, and pouted in profile, and beat her painted lashes in 
profile, while I prayed we would never get to that store, but we 
did. 

I have nothing else to report, save, primo: that big Haze had 
little Haze sit behind on our way home, and secundo: that the 
lady decided to keep Humbert’s Choice for the backs of her 
own shapely ears. 

Thursday. We are paying with hail and gale for the tropical 
beginning of the month. In a volume of the Young People’s 
Encyclopedia, I found a map of the States that a child’s pencil 
had started copying out on a sheet of lightweight paper, upon 
the other side of which, counter to the unfinished outline of 
Florida and the Gulf, there was a mimeographed list of names 
referring, evidently, to her class at the Ramsdale school. It is 
a poem I know' already by heart 

Angel, Grace 
Austin, Floyd 
Beale, Jack 
Beale, Mary 
Buck, Daniel 
Byron, Marguerite 
Campbell, Alice 
Carmine, Rose 
Chatficld, Phyllis 
Clarke, Gordon 
Cowan, John 
Cowan. Marion 
Duncan, Walter 
d9 



Falter, Ted - . 

Fantazia, Stella 
Flashman, Irving 
Fox, George 
Glave, Mabel 
Goodale, Donald 
Green, Lucinda 
Hamilton, Mary Rose 
Haze, Dolores 
Honeck, Rosaline 
Knight, Kenneth 
McCoo, Virginia 
McCrystal, Vivian 
McFate, Aubrey 
Miranda, Anthony 
Miranda, Viola 
Rosato, Emil 
Schlenker, Lena 
Scott,' Donald 
Sheridan, Agnes 
Sherva, Oleg 
Smith, r Hazel 
Talbot, Edgar 
Talbot, Edwin 
Wain, Lull 
Williams, Ralph 
Windmuller, Louise 

A poem, a poem, forsooth! So strange and sweet was it to 
discover this “Haze, Dolores” (she!) in its special bower of 
names, with its bodyguard of. roses — a fairy princess between 
her two maids of honor. I am trying to analyze the spine-thrill 
of delieht it gives me, this name among all those others. What 
is it that excites me almost to tears (hot, opalescent, thick tears 
that poets and lovers shed) ? What is it? The tender anonymity 
of this name with its formal veil (“Dolores”) and that abstract 
transposition of first name and surname, which is like a pair 
of new pale gloves or a mask? Is “mask” the keyword? Is it 
becaus' there is always delight in the semitranslucent mystery’, 
the flowing charshaf, through which the flesh and the eye you 
alone are elected to know smile in passing at you alone? Or is it 
becanse I can imagine so well the rest of the colorful classroom 
around my dolorous and hazy' darling: Grace and her ripe 

50 



pimples; Ginny and her lagging leg; Gordon, the haggard mas- 
turbator; Duncan, the foul-smelling clown; nail-biting Agnes; 
Viola, of the blackheads and the bouncing bust; pretty Rosa- 
line; dark Mary Rose; adorable Stella, who has let strangers 
touch her, Ralph, who bullies and steals; Irving, for whom I 
am sorry. And there she is there, lost in the middle, gnawing a 
pencil, detested by teachers, all the boys’ eyes oh her hair and 
neck, my Lolita. 

Friday. I long for some terrific disaster. Earthquake. Spec- 
tacular explosion. Her mother is messily but instantly and 
permanently eliminated, along with everybody else for miles 
around. Lolita, whimpers in my arms. A free man, I enjoy her 
among the mins. Her surprise, my explanations, demonstra- 
tions, uflulations. Idle and idiotic fancies! A brave Humbert 
would have played with her most disgustingly (yesterday, for 
instance, when she was again in my room to show me her 
drawings, school-artware); he might have bribed her — and got 
away with it. A simpler and more practical fellow would have 
soberly stuck to various commercial substitutes — if you know 
where to go, I don’t Despite my manly looks, I am horribly 
timid. My romantic soul gets ah clammy and shivery at the 
thought of running into some awful indecent unpleasantness. 
Those ribald sea monsters. "Mais allez-y, allez-yj” Annabel 
skipping on one foot to get into her shorts, I seasick with 
rage, trying to screen her. 

Same date, later, quite late. I have turned on the light to 
take down a dream. It had an evident antecedent. Haze at 
dinner had benevolently proclaimed that since the weather 
bureau promised a sunny weekend we would go to the lake 
Sunday after church. As I lay in bed, erotically musing before 
trying to go to sleep, I thought of a final scheme how to profit 
by the picnic to come. I was aware that mother Haze hated 
my darling for her being sweet on me. So I planned my lake 
day with a view to satisfying the mother. To her alone would 
I talk; but at some appropriate moment I would say I had left 
my wrist watch or my sunglasses in that .glade yonder — and 
plimge with my nymphet into the wood. Reality at this junc- 
ture withdrew, and the Quest for the Glasses turned into a 
quiet little orgy with a singularly knowing, cheerful, corrupt 
and compliant Lolita behaving as reason knew she conld not 
possibly behave. At 3 a.m. I swallowed a sleeping pQl, and pres- 
ently, a dream that was not a sequel but a parody revealed to 
me, with a kind of meaningful clarity, the^e I had never yet 

a, )V % ; ? M M r‘ ! \ S' 51 

** 5 - — i-* c cy 



visited: it was glazed over with a sheet of emerald ice, and a 
pockmarked Eskimo was trying in vain to break it with a pick- 
axe, although imported mimosas and oleanders flowered on its 
gravelly banks. I am sure Dr. Blanche Schwarzmann would 
have paid me a sack of schillings for adding such a libidream to 
her files. Unfortunately, the rest of it was frankly eclectic. Big 
Haze and little Haze rode on horseback around the lake, and I 
rode too, dutifully bobbing up and down, bowlegs astraddle 
although there was no horse between them, only elastic air — 
one of those little omissions due to the absent-mindedness of 
the dream agent. 

Saturday. My heart is still thumping. I stfll squirm and emit 
low moans of remembered embarrassment 

Dorsal view. Glimpse of shiny skin between T-shirt and 
white gym shorts. Bending, over a window sill, in the act 
of tearing off leaves from a poplar outside while engrossed in 
torrential talk with a newspaper boy below (Kenneth Knight, I 
suspect) who had just propelled the Ramsdale Journal with a 
very precise thud onto the porch. I began creeping up to her — 
“crippling” up to her, as pantomimists say. My arms and legs 
were convex surfaces between which — rather than upon which 
— I slowly progressed by some neutral means of locomotion: 
Humbert the Wounded Spider. I must have taken hours to 
reach her: I seemed to see her through the wrong end of a 
telescope, and toward her taut little rear I moved like some 
paralytic, on soft distorted limbs, in terrible concentration. At 
last I was right behind her when I had the unfortunate idea of 
blustering a trifle — shaking her by the scruff of the neck and 
that sort of thing to cover my real manage, and she said in a 
shrill brief whine: “Cut it outl” — most coarsely, the little 
wench, and with a ghastly grin Humbert the Humble beat a 
gjoomy retreat while she went on wisecracking streetward. 

But now listen to what happened next. After lunch I was 
reclining in a low chair trying to read. Suddenly two deft little 
hands were over my eyes: she had crept up from behind as if 
re-enacting, in a ballet sequence, my morning maneuver. Her 
fingers were a luminous crimson as they tried to blot out the 
sun, and she uttered hiccups of laughter and jerked this way 
and that as I stretched my arm sideways and backwards with- 
out otherwise changing my recumbent position. My hand 
swept over her agile giggling legs, and the book like a sleigh 
left my lap, and Mrs. Haze strolled up and said indulgently: 
“Just slap her hard if she interferes with your scholarly medita- 

52 



tjons. How I love this garden [no exclamation marie in her 
tone]. Isn't it divine in the sun [no question mark either].” 
And with a sigh of feigned content, the obnoxious lady sank 
down on the grass and looked up at the sky as she leaned back 
on her splayed-out hands, and presently an old gray tennis ball 
bounced over her, and Lo's voice came from the house 
haughtily: “Pardonnez, Mother. I was not aiming at yon.” Of 
course not, my hot downy darl i n g. 


12 


This proved to be the last of twenty entries or so. It will he 
seen from them that for all the devil's inventiveness, the 
scheme remained daily the same. First he would tempt me — 
and then thwart me, leaving me with a dull pain in the very 
root of my being. I knew exactly what I wanted to do, and 
how to do it, without impinging on a child’s chastity, after all, 
I had had some experience in my life of pederosis; had visually 
possessed dappled nymphets in parks; had wedged my wary 
and bestial way into the hottest, most crowded comer of a city 
bus full of strap-hanging school children. But for almost three 
weeks I had been interrupted in all my pathetic machinations. 
The agent of these interruptions was usually the Haze woman,, 
(who, as the reader will mark, was more afraid of Lo’s deriving 
some pleasure from me than of my enjoying Lo) . The passion 
I had developed for that nympbet — for the first nymphet in 
my life that could be reached at last by my awkward, aching, 
timid daws — would have certainly landed me again in a sana- 
torium, had not the devil realized that I was to be granted 
some relief if he wanted to have me as a plaything for some 
time longer. 

The reader has also marked the curious Mirage of the Lake. 
It would have been logical on the part of Aubrey McFate (as 
I would like to dub that devil of mine) to arrange a small treat 
for me on the promised beach, in the presumed forest. Actual- 
ly, the promise Mrs. Haze had made was a fraudulent one: she 
h2d not told me that Mary Rose Hamfiton (a dark little beauty 
in her own right) was to come too, and that the two nymphets 
would be whispering apart, and playing apart, and having a 

53 


good time all by themselves, while Mrs. Haze and her hand- 
some lodger conversed sedately in the seminude, far from 
prying eyes. Incidentally, eyes did pry and tongues did wag. 
How queer life is! We hasten to alienate the very fates we in- 
tended to v/oo. Before my actual arrival, my landlady had 
planned to have an old spinster, a Miss Phalen, whose mother 
had been cook in Mrs. Haze's family, come to stay in the 
house, with Lolita and me, while Mrs. Haze, a career girl at 
heart, sought some suitable job in the nearest city. Mrs. Haze 
had seen the whole situation very clearly: the bespectacled, 
round-backed Herr Humbert coming with his Central-Eoro- 
pean trunks to gather dust in his comer behind a heap of old 
books; the unloved ugly little daughter firmly supervised by 
Miss Phalen who had already once had my Lo under her 
buzzard wing (Lo recalled that 1944 summer with an indig- 
nant shudder) ; and Mrs. Haze herself engaged as a receptionist 
in a great elegant city. But a not too complicated event inter- 
fered with that program. Miss Phalen broke her hip in Savan- 
nah, Ga., on the very day I arrived in Ramsdale. 


13 

The Sunday after the Saturday already described proved to be 
as bright as the weatherman had predicted. When putting the 
breakfast things back on the chair outside my room for my 
good landlady to remove at her convenience, I gleaned the 
following situation by listening from the landing across which 
I had softly crept to the banisters in my old bedroom slippers 
— the only old things about me. 

There had been another row. Mrs. Hamilton had tele- 
phoned that her daughter "was running a temperature.” Mrs. 
Haze informed her daughter that the picnic -would have to be 
postponed. Hot little Haze informed big cold Haze that, if so, 
she would not go with her to church. Mother said very wen 
and left. 

I had come out on the landing straight after shaving, soapy- 
earlobed, still in my white pajamas with the cornflower blue 
(not the lilac) design on the back; I now wiped off the soap, 
perfumed my hair and armpits, slipped on a purple silk dress- 

54 


mg gown, and, humming nervously, went down the stairs in 

quest of Lo. . _ 

I want my learned readers to participate m the scene 1 am 
about to replay, I want them to examine its every detail and see 
for themselves how careful, how chaste, the whole wine-sweet 
event is if viewed with what my lawyer has called, in a private 
talk we have had, “impartial sympathy." So let us get started. 

I have a difficult job before me. 

Main character: Humbert the Hummer. Time: -.Sunday 
morning in June. Place: sunlit living room. Props: old, candy- 
striped davenport, magazines, phonograph, Mexican knick- 
knacks (the late Mr. Harold E. Haze- — God bless the good 
man — had engendered my darling at the siesta hour in a blue- 
washed room, on a honeymoon trip to Vera Cruz, and memen- 
toes, among these Dolores, were all over the place). She wore 
that day a pretty print dress that I had seen on her once be- 
fore, ample in the skirt, tight in the bodice, short-sleeved, pink, 
checkered with darker pink, and, to complete the color scheme, 
she had painted her lips and was holding in her hollowed 
hands a beautiful, banal, Eden-red apple. She was not shod, 
however, for church. And her white Sunday purse lay discarded 
near the phonograph. 

My heart beat like a dram as she sat down, cool skirt bal- 
looning, subsiding, on the sofa next to me, and played with her 
glossy fruit She tossed it up into the sun-dusted air, and 
caught it — it made a cupped polished plop. 

Humbert Humbert intercepted the apple. 

"Give it back,” she pleaded, showing the marbled flush of 
her palms. I produced Delicious. She grasped it and hit into it, 
and my heart was like snow under thin crimson skin, and with 
the monkeyish nimbleness that was so typical of that American 
nymphet, she snatched ont of my abstract grip the magazine I 
had opened (pity no film has recorded the curious pattern, the 
monogrammic linkage of our simultaneous or overlapping 
moves). Rapidly, hardly hampered by the disfigured apple she 
held, Lo flipped violently through the pages in search of some- 
thing she wished Humbert to see. Found it at last. I faked 
interest by bringing my bead so close that her hair touched 
my temple and her arm brushed my cheek as she wiped her 
lips with her wrist Because of the burnished mist through 
which I peered at the picture, I was slow in reacting to it, and 
her bare knees nibbed and knocked impatiently against each 
other. Dimly there came into view: a surrealist painter relax- 

55 


mg, supine, on a beach, and near him, likewise supine, a piaster 
r fP' 1 _ c T a , Venus di Milo, half-buried in sand. Picture of 
the Week, said the legend. I whisked the whole obscene thing 
away. Next moment, in a sham effort to retrieve it, she was all 
over me. Caught her by her thin knobby wrist. The magazine 
escaped to the floor like a flustered fowl. She twisted herself 
free, recoiled, and lay back in the right-hand comer of the 
davenport. Then, with perfect simplicity, the impudent child 
extended her legs across my lap. 

By this time I was in a state of excitement bordering on in- 
sanity; but I also had the cunning of the insane. Sitting there, 
on the sofa, I managed to attune, by a series of stealthy move- 
ments, my masked lust to her guileless limbs. It was no easy 
matter to. divert the little maiden's attention while I performed 
the obscure adjustments necessary for the success of the trick. 
Talking fast, lagging behind my own breath, catching up with 
it, mimicking a sudden toothache to explain the breaks in my 
patter — and all the while keeping a maniac’s inner eye on my 
distant golden goal, I cautiously increased the magic friction 
that was doing away, in an fllusional, if not factual, sense, with 
the physically irremovable, but psychologically very friable 
texture of the material divide (pajamas and robe) between the 
weight of two sunburnt legs, resting athwart my lap, and the 
hidden tumor of an unspeakable passion. Having, in the course 
of my patter, hit upon something nicely mechanical, I recited, 
garbling them slightly, the words of a foolish song that was 
then popular — O my Carmen, my little Carmen, something, 
something, those something nights, and the stars, and the cars, 
and the bars, and the barmen; I kept repeating this automatic 
stuff and holding her under its special spell (special because of 
the garbling), and all the while I was mortally afraid that some 
act of God might interrupt me, might remove the golden load 
in the sensation of which all my being seemed concentrated, 
and this anxiety forced me to work, for the first minute or so, 
more hastily than was consensual with deliberately modulated 
enjoyment. The stars that sparkled, and the cars that parkled, 
and the bars, and the barmen, were presently taken over by 
her; her voice stole and corrected. the tune I had been mutilat- 
ing. She was musical and apple-sweet. Her legs twitched a little 
as they lay across my live lap; I stroked them; there she lolled 
in the right-hand comer, almost asprawl, Lola the bobby-soxer, 
devouring her immemorial fruit, singing through its juice, los- 
ing her slipper, rubbing the heel of her slippeiless foot in its 

56 



sloppy anklet, against the pile of old magazines heaped on my 
left on the sofa— and every movement she made, every shuffle 
and ripple, helped me to conceal and to improve the secret 
system of tactile correspondence between beast and beauty— 
between my gagged, bursting-beast and the beauty of ber dim- 
pled body in its innocent cotton frock. 

Under my glancing finger tips I felt the minute hairs bristle 
ever so slightly along her shins. 1 lost myself in the pungent 
but healthy heat which like summer haze hung about little 
Haze. Let her stay, let her stay ... As she strained to chuck the 
core of her abolished apple into the fender, her young weight, 
her shameless innocent shanks and round bottom, shifted in 
my tense, tortured, surreptitiously laboring lap; and all of a 
sudden a mysterious change came over my senses. I entered a 
plane of being where nothing mattered, save the infusion of 
joy brewed within my body. What had begun as a .delicious 
distension of my innermost roots became a glowing tingle 
which now had reached that state of absolute security, confi- 
dence and reliance not found elsewhere in conscious life. With 
the deep hot sweetness thus established and well on its way 
to the ultimate convulsion, I felt I could slow down in order 
to prolong the glow. Lolita had been safely solipsized. The 
implied sun pulsated in the supplied poplars; we were fan- 
tastically 2 nd divinely alone; I watched her, rosy, gold-dusted, 
beyond the veil of my controlled delight, unaware of it, alien 
to it, and the sun was on her lips, and her lips were apparently 
still forming the words of the Carmen-barmen ditty' that ■> 
no longer reached my consciousness. Everything was now 
readv . The nerves of pleasure had been laid bare. The corpuscles 
of Krauze were entering the phase of frenzy. The least pressure 
would suffice to set all paradise loose. I had ceased to be Hum- 
bert the Hound, the sad-eyed degenerate cur clasping the boot 
that would presently kick him away. I was above the tribula- 
tions of ridicule, beyond the possibilities of retribution. In my 
self-made seraglio, I was a radiant and robust Turk, deliber- 
ately, in the full consciousness of his freedom, postponing the 
moment of actually enjoying the youngest and frailest of his 
slaves. Suspended on .the brink of that voluptuous abyss (a 
nicety of physiological equipoise comparable to certain tech- 
niques in the arts) I kept repeating chance words after her — 
barmen, alarmin’, my charmin’, my carmen, ahmen, ahaha- 
F ,en " as one talking and laughing in his sleep while my happy 
band crept up hex sunny leg as far the the shadow of decency 

57 . 



allowed. The day before she had collided with the heavy chest 
re the hall and "Look, look!"— I gasped— ‘'look what you’ve 
done, what you’ve done to yourself, ah, look”; for there was I 
swear, a yellowish-violet bruise on her lovely nymphet thigh 
which my huge hairy hand massaged and slowly enveloped— 
and because of her very perfunctory underthings, there seemed 
to be nothing to prevent my muscular thumb from reaching 
the hot hollow of her groin— just as you might tickle and 
caress a giggling child— just that— and: “Oh it’s nothing at 
all,” she cried with a sudden shrill note in her voice, and she 
wriggled, and squirmed, and threw her head back and her teeth 
rested on her glistening underlip as she half-turned away, and 
my moaning mouth, gentlemen of the jury, almost reached 
her bare neck, while I crushed out against her left buttock the 
last throb of the longest ecstasy man or monster had ever 
known. 

Immediately afterward (as if we had been struggling and 
now my grip bad eased) she rolled off the sofa and jumped to 
her feet — to her foot, rather — in order to attend to the formi- 
dably loud telephone that may have been ringing for ages as 
far as I was concerned. There she stood and blinked, cheeks 
aflame, hair awry, her eyes passing over me as lightly as they 
did over the furniture, and as she listened or spoke (to her 
mother who was telling her to come to lunch with her at the 
Chatfields — neither Lo nor Hum knew yet what busybody 
Haze was plotting), she kept tapping the edge of the table 
with the slipper she held in her band. Blessed be the Lord, 
she had noticed nothingl 

With a handkerchief of multicolored silk, on which her 
listening eyes rested in passing, I wiped the sweat off my fore- 
head, and, immersed in a euphoria of release, rearranged my 
royal robes. She was still at the telephone, haggling with her 
mother (wanted to be fetched by car, my little Carmen ) when, 
singing louder and louder, I swept up the stairs and set a 
deluge of steaming water roaring into the tub. 

At this point I may as well give the words of that song hit in 
full— to the best of my recollection at least— I don’t think I 
ever had it right. Here goes: 

O my Carmen, my little Carmen! 

Somethine, something those something nights, 

And the stars, and the cars, and the bars, and the 

[barmen — 

And, O my charmin', our dreadful fights. 

58 


And the something town where so gaily, arm in 
Arm, we went, and our final row, 

And the gun I lulled you with, O my Carmen, 

The gun I am holding now. 

(Drew his .32 automatic, I guess, and put a bullet through 
his moll’s eye.) . 

^ \ ' • ‘ 

. 14 

I had hunch in town — had not been so hungry for years. The 
house was still Lo-less when I strolled back. I spent the after- 
noon musing, scheming, blissfully digesting my experience of 
the morning. 

I felt proud of myself. I had stolen the honey of a spasm, 
without impairing the morals of a minor. Absolutely no harm 
done. The conjurer had poured milk, molasses, foaming cham- 
pagne into a young lady’s new white purse; and lo, the purse 
was intact Thus had I delicately constructed my ignoble,, 
ardent sinful dream; and still Lolita was safe — and I was safe. 
What I had madly possessed was' not she, but my own. crea- 
tion, another fanciful Lolita — perhaps, more real than Lolita; 
overlapping, encasing her; floating between me and her, and . 
having no will, no consciousness — indeed, no life of her own. 

The child knew nothing. I had done nothing to her. And 
nothing prevented me from repeating a performance that af- 
fected her as little as if she were a photographic image rippling 
upon a screen and I a humble hunchback abusing mj’self in the 
dark. The afternoon drifted on and on, in ripe sflence, and the 
sappy tall trees seemed to be in the know; and desire, even 
stronger than before, began to afflict me again. Let her come 
soon, I prayed, addressing a lone God, and while mamma is in 
the kitchen, let a repetition of the davenport scene be staged, 
please, I adore her so horribly. 

No: ‘horribly” is the wrong word. The elation with which 
the vision of new delights filled me was not horrible but 
pathetic. I qualify it as pathetic. Pathetic — because despite the 
insatiable fire of my venereal appetite, I intended, with the 
most fervent force and foresight, to protect the purity of that 
twelve-year old child. 


59 



And now see how I was repaid for my pains. No Lolita came 
home— she had gone with the Chatfields to a movie. The table 
was laid with more elegance than usual: candlelight, if yon 
please. In this mawkish aura, Mrs! Haze gently touched the 
silver on both sides of her plate as if touching piano keys, and 
smiled down on her empty plate (was on a diet), and said she 
hoped I liked the salad (recipe lifted from a woman’s mag- 
azine). She hoped I liked the cold cuts, too. It had been a 
perfect day. Mrs. Chatfield was a lovely person. Phyllis, her 
daughter, was going to a summer camp tomorrow. For three 
weeks. Lolita, it was decided, would go Thursday. Instead of 
waiting till July, as had been initially planned. And stay there 
after Phyllis had left. Till school began. A pretty prospect, my 
heart 


Oh, how I was taken aback — for did it not mean I was los- 
ing my darling, just when I had secretly made her mine? To 
explain my grim mood, I had to use the same toothache I had 
already simulated in the morning. Must have been an enor- 
mous molar, with an abscess as big as a maraschino cherry. 

"We have,” said Haze, "an excellent dentist Our neighbor, 
in fact Dr. Quilty. Uncle or cousin, I think, of the playwright 
Think it will pass? Well, just as you wish. In the fall I shall 
have him Trace’ her, as my mother used to say. It may curb 
Lo a little. I am afraid she has been bothering you frightfully 
all these days. And we are ip for a couple of stormy ones before 
she goes. She has flatly refused to go, and I confess I left hex 
.with the Chatfields because I dreaded to face her alone just 
yet The movie may mollify her. Phyllis is a very sweet girl, and 
there is no earthly reason for Lo to dislike her. Really, mon- 
sieur, I am very sorry about that tooth of yours. It would be so 
much more reasonable to let me contact Ivor Quilty first thing 
tomorrow morning if it stfll hurts. And, you know, I think a 
summer camp is so much healthier, and — well, it is all so much 
more reasonable as I say than to mope on a suburban lawn and 
use mamma’s lipstick, and pursue shy studious gentlemen, and 
go into tantrums at the least provocation. 

"Are you sure,” I said at last, "that she wifi be happy there? 
(lame, lamentably lame!) 

"She’d better," said Haze. "And it won’t be all play either. 
The camp is run by Shirley Holmes — you know, the woman 
who wrote Campfire Girl. Camp will teach Dolores Haze to 
grow in many things — health, knowledge, temper. Ana par- 
ticularly in a sense of responsibility toward other people. Snail 

60 


we take these candles with ns and sit for a while on the piazza, 
or do you want to go to bed and nurse that tooth7" 

Nurse that tooth. 


15 


Next day they drove downtown to buy things needed for the 
camp: any wearable purchase worked wonders with Lo. She 
seemed her usual sarcastic self at dinner. Immediately after- 
wards, she went up to her room to plunge into the comic books 
acquired for rainy days at Camp Q (they were so thoroughly 
sampled by Thursday that she left them behind) . I too retired 
to my lair, and wrote letters. My plan now was to leave for the 
seaside and then, when school began, resume my existence in 
the Haze household; for I knew already that I could not live 
without the child. On Tuesday they went shopping again, and 
I was asked to answer the phone if the camp mistress rang up 
during their absence. She did; and a month or so later we had 
occasion to recall our pleasant chat. That Tuesday, Lo had her 
dinner in her room. She had been crying after a routine row 
with her mother and, as had happened on former occasions, 
had not wished me to see her swollen eyes: she had one of 
those tender complexions that after a good cry get all blurred 
and inflamed, and morbidly alluring. I regretted keenly her 
mistake about my private aesthetics, for I simply love that 
tinge of Botticellian pink, that raw rose about the bps, those 
wet, matted eyelashes; and, naturally, her bashful whim 
deprived me..of many opportunities of specious consolation. 
There was, however, more to it than I thought. As we sat in 
the darkness of the veranda (a rude wind had put out her red 
candles), Haze, with a dreary laugh, said she had told Lo that 
her beloved Humbert thoroughly approved of the whole camp 
idea “and now,” added Haze, "the child throws a fit; pretext: 
you and I want to get rid of her, actual reason: I told her -we 
would exchange tomorrow for plainer stuS some much too 
cute night thinp that she bullied me into buying for her. You 
sec, she sees herself as a starlet; I see her as a sturdy, healthy, 
but decidedly homely kid. This, I guess, is at the root of our 
troubles." 


61 


i managed to ™y h y L° for a few seconds: 
she was on the landing, in sweatshirt and green-stained white 
shorts, rummaging in a trunk. I said something meant to be 
friendly and funny but she only emitted a snort without look- 
ing at me. Desperate, dying Humbert patted her clumsily on 
her coccyx, and she struck him, quite painfully, with one of 
the late Mr. Haze’s shoetrees. “Doublecrosser,” she said as I 
crawled downstairs rubbing my aim with a great show of rue. 
She did not condescend to have dinner with Hum and mum- 
washed her hair and went to bed with her ridiculous books*. 
And on Thursday quiet Mrs. Haze drove her to Camp Q. 

As greater authors than I have put it: “Let readers imagine" 
etc. On second thought, I may as well give those imaginations 
a kick in the pants. I knew I had fallen in love with Lolita 
forever; but I also knew she would not be forever Lolita. She 
would be thirteen on January 1. In two years or so she would 
cease being a nymphet and would turn into a "young girl,” 
and then, into a “college girl” — that horror of horrors. The 
word “forever” referred only to my own passion, to the eternal 
Lolita as reflected in my blood. The Lolita whose iliac crests 
had not yet flared, the Lolita that today I could touch and 
smell and hear and see, the Lolita of the strident voice and the 
rich brown hair — of the bangs and the swirls at the sides and 
the curls at the back, and the sticky hot neck, and the vulgar 
vocabulary — “revolting,” “super,” ‘luscious,” “goon,” “drip” 
— that Lolita, my Lolita, poor Catullus would lose forever. So 
how could I afford not to see her for two months of summer 
insomnias? Two whole months out of the two years of her re- 


maining nymphage! Should I disguise myself as a somber old- 
fashioned girl, gawky Mile Humbert, and put up my tent on 
the outskirts of Camp Q, in the hope that its russet nymphets 
would clamor: “Let us adopt that deep-voiced D.P.,” and drag 
the sad, shyly smiling Berthe au Grand Pied to their rustic 
hearth. Berthe will sleep with Dolores Haze! 

Idle dry dreams. Two months of beauty, two months of ten- 
derness, would be squandered forever, and I could do nothing 
about it, but nothing, mais rien. 

One drop of rare honey, however, that Thursday did hold in 
its acom cup. Haze was to drive her to the camp in the early 
morning. Upon sundry sounds of departure reaching me, I 
rolled out of bed and leaned out of the window. Under the 
poplars, the car was already athrob. On the sidewalk, Louise 
stood shading her eyes with her hand, as if the little traveler 
were already riding into the low morning sun. The gesture 


62 



proved to be premature. "Hurry upP shouted Haze. My 
Lolita, who was half in and about to slam the car door, wind 
down the glass, wave to Louise and the poplars (whom and 
which she was never to see again), interrupted the motion of 
fate: she looked up — and dashed back into the house (Haze 
furiously calling after her) . A moment later I heard my sweet- 
heart running up the stairs. My heart expanded with such 
force that it almost blotted me out I hitched up the pants of 
- my pajamas, flung the door open: and simultaneously Lolita 
arrived, in her Sunday frock, stamping, panting, and then she 
was in my arms, her innocent mouth melting under the fero- 
cious pressure of dark male jaws, my palpitating darling! The 
next instant I heard her — alive, unraped — clatter downstairs. 
The motion of fate was resumed. The blond leg was pulled in, 
the car door was slammed — was re-slammed — and driver Haze 
at the violent wheel, rubber-red bps writhing in angry, . in- 
audible speech, swung my darling away, while unnoticed by 
them or Louise, old Miss Opposite, an invalid, feebly but 
rhythmically waved from her vlned veranda. 


16 


The Honnow of my hand was still ivory-full of Lolita — full of 
the feel of her pre-adolescently incurved back, that ivory- - 
smooth, sliding sensation of her skin through the thin frock 
that I had worked up and down while I held her. I marched 
into her tumbled room, threw open the door of the closet and 
plunged into a heap of crumpled things that had touched her. 
There was particularly one pink texture, sleazy, tom, with a 
faintly acrid odor in the seam. I wrapped in it Humbert's huge 
engorged heart. A poignant chaos was welling within me — 
but I had to drop those things and hurriedly regain my com- 
posure, as I became aware of the maid’s velvety voice calling 
me softly from the stairs. She had a message for me, she said; 
and, topping my automatic thanks with a kindly "you’re wel- 
come,” good Louise left an unstamped, curiously clean-look- 
ing letter in my shaking hand. 

This is a confession: I love you [so the letter began; and 
tor a distorted moment I mistook its hysterical scrawl for a 
schoolgirl’s scribble]. Last Sunday in church— bad you, who 

63 



r&fased to come to see oar beautiful new windows! — only 
last Sunday, my dear one, when Tasked the Lord what to do 
about it, I was told to act as I am acting now. You see, there 
is no alternative. I have loved you from the minute I saw 
you. I am a passionate and lonely woman and you are the 
love of my life. 

Now, my dearest, dearest, mon cher, cher monsieur, you 
have read this; now you know. So, wall you please, at once, 
pack and leave. This is a landlady* s order. I am dismissing a 
lodger. I am kicking you out Go! Scram! Departezl I shall 
be back by dinnertime, if I do eighty both ways and don’t 
have an accident (but what would it matter?), and I do 
not wish to find you in the house. Please, please, leave at 
once, now, do not even read this absurd note to the end. 
Go. Adieu. 

The situation, ch6ri, is quite simple. Of course, I know 
with absolute certainty that I am nothing to you, nothing at 
all. Oh yes, you enjoy talking to me (and kidding poor me), 
you have grown fond of our friendly house, of the books I 
like, of my lovely garden, even of Lo's noisy ways — but I am 
nothing to you. Right? Right. Nothing to you whatever. But 
if, after reading my “confession,” you decided, in your dark 
romantic European way, that I am attractive enough for you 
to take advantage of my letter and make a pass at me, then 
you would be a criminal— worse than a kidnapper who rapes 
a child. You see, ch6ri. If you decided to stay, if I found 
you at home (which I know I won’t — and that's why I am 
able to go on like this), the fact of your remaining would 
only mean one thing: that you want me as much as I do 
you: as a lifelong mate; and that you are ready to link up 
your life with min e forever and ever and be a father to my 
little girl. 

Let me rave and ramble on for a teeny while more, my 
dearest, since I know this letter has been by now tom by you, 
and its pieces (illegible) in the vortex of the toilet My 
dearest mon tr£s, tr&s cher, what a world of love I have 
b uil t up for you during this miraculous June! I know how 
reserved you are, how “British.” Your old-world reticence, 
your sense of decorum may be shocked by the boldness of an 
American girl! You who conceal your strongest feelings must 
think me a shameless little idiot for throwing open my poor 
bruised heart like this. In years gone by, many disappoint- 
ments came my way. Mr. Haze was a splendid person, a 

64 



sterling soul, buthe happened to he twenty years my senior, ; 

and — well, let us not gossip about the past. My dearest, ; 
your cariosity must be well satisfied if you have ignored my 
request and read this letter to the hitter end. Never mind. ’ 
Destroy it and go.. Do not forget to leave the hey on the j 
desk in your room. And some scrap of address so that I i 

could refund the twelve dollars I owe you tQl the end of the i 

month. Good-bye, dear one. Pray for me — if yon ever pray. j 

C.H. ! 

j 

What I present here is what I remember of foe letter, and j 
what I remember of foe letter I remember verbatim (including | 
that awful French) . It was at least twice longer. I have left ont i 

a lyrical passage which I more or less skipped at foe time, con- , 
cerning Lolita's brother who died at 2 when she was 4, and j 

how much I would have liked him. Let me see what else can I • 

say? Yes. There is just a chance that "foe vortex of foe toilet" ] 
(where the letter did go) is my own matter-of-fact contribu- ; 
tion. She probably begged me to make a special fire for it. j 

My first movement was one of repulsion and retreat. My J 

second was like a friend's calm band falling upon my shoulder j 
and bidding me take my time. I did. I came out of my daze | 
and found myself still in Lo’s room. A full-page ad ripped out 
of a slick magazine was affixed to foe wall above foe bed, be- 
tween a crooner's mug and foe lashes of a movie actress. It j 
represented a dark-haired young husband with a kind of 
drained look in his Irish eyes. He was modeling a robe by So- J 
and-So and bolding a bridgelike tray by So-and-So, with break- j 

fast for two. The legend, by foe Rev. Thomas Morell, called 1 
him a “conquering hero." The thoroughly conquered lady 
(not shown) was presumably propping heiself up to receive j 
her half of foe tray. How her bedfellow was to get under foe 
bridge without some messy mishap was not clear. Lo had 
drawn a jocose arrow to foe haggard lover's face and had put, 
in block letters: H. H. And indeed, despite a difference of a few 
5 ’ears, foe resemblance was striking. Under this was another 
picture, also a colored ad. A distinguished playwright was sol- ■ 
cmnly smoking a Drome. He always smoked Dromes. The 
resemblance was slight. Under this was Lo's chaste bed, lit- 1 
tered with comics.” The enamel had come off the bedstead, ! 
leaving black, more or less rounded, marks on foe white. Hav- i 
mg convinced myself that Louise had left, I got into Lo’s bed 1 
and reread the letter. j 


65 


17 

Gentlemen of the joey! I cannot swear that certain mo- 
tions pertaining to the business in hand — if I may coin an 
expression — had not drifted across my mind before. My mind 
had not retained them in any logical form or in any relation 
to definitely recollected occasions; but I cannot swear — let me 
repeat — that I had not toyed with them (to rig up yet an- 
other expression), in my dimness of thought, in my darkness 
of passion. There may have been times — -there must have been 
times, if I know my Humbert — when I had brought up for 
detached inspection the idea of marrying a mature widow (say, 
Charlotte Haze) with not one relative left in the wide gray 
world, merely "in order to have my way with her child (Lo, 
Lola, Lolita). I am even prepared to tell my tormentors that 
perhaps once or twice I had cast an appraiser’s cold eye at 
Charlotte’s coral lips and bronze hair and dangerously low 
neckline, and had vaguely tried to fit her into a plausible day- 
dream. This I confess under torture. Imaginary torture, per- 
haps, but all the more horrible. I wish I might digress and 
tell you more of the pavor noctumus that would rack me at 
night hideously after a chance term had struck me in the ran- 
dom readings of my boyhood, such as peine forte et dure (what 
a Genius of Pain must have invented thatl) or the dreadful, 
mysterious, insidious words, "trauma," "traumatic event,” and 
"transom.” But my tale is sufficiently incondite already. 

After a while I destroyed the letter and w'ent to my room, 
and ruminated, and rumpled my hair, and modeled my purple 
robe, and moaned through clenched teeth and suddenly — 
Suddenly, gentlemen of the jury, I felt a Dostoeyskian grin 
dawning (through the very grimace that twisted my lips) like 
a distant and terrible sun. I imagined (under conditions of 
new and perfect visibility) all the casual caresses her mother’s 
husband would be able to lavish on his Lolita. I would hold 
her against me three times a day, every day. All my troubles 
would be expelled, I would be a healthy man. 'To hold thee 
lightly on a gentle knee and print on thy soft cheek a parent s 
kiss . . Well-read Humbert! 

Then, with all possible caution, on mental tiptoe so to 
speak, I conjured up Charlotte as a possible mate. By God, I 

66 


could make myself bring her that economically halved grape- 
fruit, that sugarless breakfast 

Humbert Humbert sweating in the fierce white light, and 
howled at and trodden upon by sweating policemen, is now 
ready to make a further "statement” ( quel mot!) as he turns 
his conscience inside out and rips off its innermost lining. I 
did not plan to marry poor Charlotte in order to eliminate her 
in some vulgar, gruesome and dangerous manner such as kill- 
ing her by placing five bichloride-of-mercury tablets in her 
preprandial sherry or anything like that hut a delicately allied, 
pharmacopoeial thought did tinkle in my sonorous and 
clouded brain. Why limit myself to the modest masked caress 
I had tried already? Other versions of venery presented them- 
selves to me swaying and smiling. I saw myself administering 
a powerful sleeping potion to both mother and daughter so as 
to fondle the latter through the night with perfect impunity. 
The house was full of Charlotte’s snore, while Lolita hardly 
breathed in her sleep, as still as a painted girl-child. "Mother, 
I swear Kenny never even touched me.” "You either lie, 
Dolores Haze, or it was an incubus.” No, I would not go that 
far. 

So Humbert the Cubus schemed and dreamed — and the red 
sun of desire and decision (the two things that create a live 
world) rose higher and higher, while upon a succession of 
balconies a succession of libertines, sparkling glass in hand, 
toasted the bliss of past and future nights. Then, figuratively 
speaking, I shattered the glass, and boldly imagined (for I was 
drunk on those visions by then and underrated the gentleness 
of my nature) how eventually I might blackmail — no, that is 
too strong a word — mauvemail big Haze into letting me con- 
sort with little Haze by gently threatening the poor doting 
Big Dove with desertion if she tried to bar me from playing 
with my legal stepdaughter. In a word, before such an Amaz- 
ing Offer, before such a vastness and variety of vistas, I was 
as helpless as Adam at the preview of early oriental history, 
miraged in his apple orchard. 

And now take down the following important remark: the 
artist in me Has been given the upper hand over the gentle- 
man. It is with a great effort of will that in this memoir I 
have managed to tune my style to the tone of the journal that 
I kept when Mrs. Haze was to me but an obstacle. That 
journal of mine is no more; but I have considered it my 
artistic duty' to preserve its intonations no matter how false 

67 


and brutal they may seem to me. now. Fortunately, my story 
has reached a point where I can cease insulting poor Charlotte 
for the. sake of retrospective, verisimilitude. 

Wishing to spare poor Charlotte two or three hours of sus- 
pense on a winding road (and avoid, perhaps, a head-on col- 
lision that would shatter our different dreams), I made a 
thoughtful but abortive attempt to reach her at the camp by 
telephone. She had left an hour before, and getting Lo instead, 
I told her — trembling and brimming with my mastery over 
fete — that I was going to marry her mother. I had to repeat it 
twice because something was preventing her from giving me 
her attention. “Gee, that's swell,” she said laughing. “When 
is the wedding? Hold on a sec, the pup — That pup here has 
got hold of my sock. Listen — ” and she added she guessed she 
was going to have loads of fun . . . and I realized as I hung 
up that a couple of hours at that camp had been sufficient to 
blot out with new impressions the image of handsome Hum- 
bert Humbert from little Lolita's mind. But what did it mat- 
ter now?. I would get her back as soon as a decent amount of 
time after the wedding had elapsed. “The orange blossom 
would have scarcely withered on the grave,” as a- poet might 
have said. But I am no poet. I am only a very conscientious 
recorder. 

After Louise had gone, I inspected the icebox, and finding 
it much too puritanic, walked to town and bought the richest 
foods available. I also bought some good liquor and two or 
three kinds of vitamins. I was pretty sure that with the aid of 
these stimulants and my natural resources, I would avert any 
embarrassment that my indifference might incur when called 
upon to display a strong and impatient flame. Again and again 
resourceful Humbert evoked Charlotte as seen in the raree- 
show of manly imagination. She was well groomed and shape- 
ly, this I could say for her, and she was my Lolita's big sister- — 
this notion, perhaps, I could keep up if only I did not visualize 
too realistically her heavy hips, round knees, ripe bust, the 
coarse pink of her neck (“coarse” by comparison with silk 
and honey) and all the rest of that sorry and dull thing; a 
handsome woman. 

The sun made its usual round of the house as the afternoon 
ripened into evening. I had a drink. And another. And yet 
another. Gin and pineapple juice, my favorite mixture, always 
double my energy. I decided to busy myself with our unkempt 
lawn. Une petite attention. It was crowded with dandelions, 

68 


and a cursed dog — I loathe dogs— had defiled the fiat stones 
•where a sundial had once stood. Most of the dandelions had 
changed from suns to moons. The gin and Lolita were dancing 
in me, and I almost fell over the folding chairs that I attempted 
to dislodge. Incarnadine zebras! There are some eructations 
that sound like cheers — at least, mine did. An old fence at the 
back of the garden separated us from the neighbor’ s garbage 
receptacles and lilacs; but there was nothing between the front 
end of onr lawn (where it sloped along one side of the house) 
and the street. Therefore I was able to watch (with the smirk 
of one about to perform a good action) for the return of 
Charlotte: that tooth should be extracted at once. As I lurched 
and lunged with the hand mower, bits of grass optically twit- 
tering in the low sun, I kept an eye on that section of suburban 
street It curved in from under an archway of huge shade 
trees, then sped towards us down, down, quite sharply, past 
old Miss Opposite’s ivied brick house and high-sloping lawn 
(much trimmer than ours) and disappeared behind our own 
front porch which I could not see from where I happily 
belched and labored. The dandelions perished. A reak of sap 
mingled with the pineapple. Two little girls, Marion and 
Mabel, whose comings and goings I had mechanically fol- 
lowed of late (but who could replace my Lolita? ) went toward 
the avenue (from which our Lawn Street cascaded), one push- 
ing a bicycle, the other feeding from a paper bag, both talking 
at the top of their sunny voices. Leslie, old Miss Opposite’s 
gardener and chauffeur, a very amiable and athletic Negro, * 
grinned at me from afar and shouted, re-shouted, commented 
by gesture, that I was mighty energetic to-day. The fool dog of i 

the prosperous junk dealer next door ran after a blue car — > 

not Charlotte’s. The prettier of the two little girls (Mabel, I ' 

think) , shorts, halter with little to halt, bright hair — a nymph- j 

et, by Pan! — ran back down the street crumpling her paper 1 

bag and was hidden from this Green Goat by the frontage of ! 

Mr. and Mrs. Humbert’s residence. A station wagon popped ] 

out of the leafy shade of the avenue, dragging some of it on its I 

roof before the shadows snapped, and swung by at an idiotic ] 

pace, the sweatshirted driver roof-holding with his left hand 
and the junkman’s dog tearing alonpide. There was a smiling 
pause — and then, with a flutter in my breast, I witnessed the 
return of the Blue Sedan. I saw it glide downhill and disappear 
behind the comer of the house.' I had a glimpse of her calm 
pale profile. It occurred to me that until she went upstairs she 

69 


would not "know whether I had gone or not. A minute later, 
with an expression of great anguish on her face, she looked 
down at me from the window of Lo*s room. By sprinting up- 
stairs, I managed to reach that room before she left it. 



When the bride is a widow and the groom is a widower; 
when the former has lived in Our Great Little Town for hardly 
two years, and the latter for hardly a month; when Monsieur 
wants to get the whole damned thing over with as quickly as 
possible, and Madame gives in with a tolerant smile; then, my 
reader, the wedding is generally a “quiet” affair. The bride 
may dispense with a tiara of orange blossoms securing her 
finger-tip veil, nor does she carry a white orchid in a prayer 
book. The bride's little daughter might have added to the 
ceremonies uniting H. and H. a touch of vivid vermeil; but I 
knew I would not dare be too tender with cornered Lolita yet, 
and therefore agreed it was not worth while tearing the child 
away from her beloved Camp Q. 

My soi-disant passionate and lonely Charlotte was in every- 
day life matter-of-fact and gregarious. Moreover, I discovered 
that although she could not control her heart or her cries, she 
was a woman of principle. Immediately after she had become 
- more ot less my mistress (despite the stimulants, her “nervous, 
eager chdri” — a heroic chdri — had some initial trouble, for 
which, however, he amply compensated her by a fantastic dis- 
play of old-world endearments), good Charlotte interviewed 
me about my relations with God. I could have answered that 
on that score my mind was open; I said, instead — paying rny 
tribute to a pious platitude — that I believed in a cosmic spirit. 
Looking down at her fingernails, she also asked me had I not 
in my family a certain strange strain. I countered by inquiring 
whether she would still want to marry me if my fatheris ma- 
ternal grandfather had been, say, a Turk. She said it did not 
matter a bit; but that, if she ever found out I did not believe 
in Our Christian God, she would commit suicide. She said it 
so solemnly that it gave me the creeps. It was then I knew 
she was a woman of principle. 

70 



Oh, she was very genteel: she said "excuse me” whenever a 
slight burp interrupted her flowing speech, called an envelope 
an ahnvelope, and when talking to her lady-friends referred 
to me as Mr. Humbert I thought it would please her if I 
entered the community trailing some glamor after me. On the 
day of our wedding a little interview with me appeared in the 
Society Column of the Ramsdale Journal, with a photograph 
of Charlotte, one eyebrow up and a misprint in her name 
("Hazer”). Despite this contretemps, the publicity warmed 
the porcelain cockles of her heart — and made my rattles shake j 
with awful glee. By engaging in church w'ork as well as by J 
getting to know tire better mothers of Lo’s schoolmates, 
Charlotte in the course of twenty months or so had managed 
to become if not a prominent, at least an acceptable citizen, 
but never before had she come under that thrilling rnbrique, 
and it was I who put her there, Mr. Edgar H. Humbert (I 
threw in the “Edgar” just for the heck of it), "writer and 
explorer.” McCoo’s brother, when taking it down, asked me 
what I had written. Whatever I told him came out as “sev- 
eral books on Peacock, Rainbow and other poets.” It was also 
noted that Charlotte and I had known each other for several 
years and that I was a distant relation of her first husband. 

I hinted I had had an affair with her thirteen years ago but 
this was not mentioned in print To Charlotte I said that 
society columns should contain a shimmer of errors. 

let us go on with this curious tale. When called upon to 
enjoy my promotion from lodger to lover, did I experience 
only bitterness and distaste? No. Mr. Humbert .confesses to a 
certain titillation of bis vanity, to some faint tenderness, even 
to a pattern of remorse daintily running along the steel of his 
conspiratorial dagger. Never had I thought that the rather I 
ridiculous, though rather handsome Mrs. Haze, with her blind j 
faith in the wisdom of her church and book club, ber manner- 
isms of elocution, her harsh, cold, contemptuous attitude to- ; 
ward an adorable, downy-armed child of twelve, could turn 
into such a touching, helpless creature as soon as I laid my 
hands upon her which happened on the threshold of Lolita’s ! 
room whither she tremulously backed repeating, "no, no, 
please no." 

The transformation improved her looks. Her smile that had 
been such a contrived thing, thenceforth became the radiance 
of utter adoration — a radiance haring something soft and 1, 
moist about it, in which, with wonder, I recognized a re- j 

71 1 


semblance to tie lovely, inane, lost look that Lo had when 
gloating over a new kind of concoction at the soda fountain 
or mutely admiring my expensive, always tailor-fresh clothes. 
Deeply fascinated, I would watch Charlotte wbOe sbe swapped 
parental woes with some other lady and made that- national 
grimace of feminine resignation (eyes rolling up, mouth droop- 
ing sideways), which, in an infantile form I had seen Lo 
making herself. We had highballs before turning in, and with 
their help, I would manage to evoke the child while caressing 
the mother. This was the white stomach within which my 
nymphet had been a little curved fish in 1934. This carefully 
dyed hair, so sterile to my sense of smell and touch, acquired 
at certain lamplit moments in the poster bed the tinge, if not 
the texture, of Lolita's curls. I kept telling myself, as I wielded 
my brand-new large-as-life wife, that biologically this was the 
nearest I could get to Lolita; that at Lolita’s age, Lotte had 
been as desirable a schoolgirl as her daughter was, and as 
Lolita’s daughter would be some day. I had my wife unearth 
from under a collection of shoes- (Mr. Haze had a passion for 
them, it appears) a thirty-year-old album, so that I might 
see how Lotte had looked as a child; and even though the light 
was wrong and the dresses graceless, I was able to make out a 
dim first version of Lolita’s outline, legs, cheekbones, bobbed 
nose. Lottelita, Lolitchen. 

So I tom-peeped across the hedges of years, into wan little 
windows. And when, by means of pitifully ardent, naively 
lascivious caresses, she of the noble nipple and massive thigh 
prepared me for the performance of my nightly duty, it was 
still a nymphet’s scent that in despair I tried to pick up, as I 
bayed through the undergrowth of dark decaying forests. 

I simply can’t tell you how gentle, how touching my poor 
wife was. At breakfast, in the depressingly bright kitchen, with 
its chrome glitter and Hardware and Co. Calendar and cute 
breakfast nook (simulating that Coffee Shoppe where in their 
college days Charlotte and Humbert used to coo together), 
she would sit, robed in red, her elbow on the plastic-topped 
table, her cheek propped on her fist, and stare at me with in- 
tolerable tenderness as I consumed my ham and eggs. Hum- 
bert's face might twitch with neuralgia, but in her eyes it vied 
in beauty and animation with the sun and shadow's of leaves 
rippling on the white refrigerator. My solemn exasperation 
was to her the silence of love. My small income added to her 
even smaller one impressed her as a brilliant fortune; not be- 

72 


cause the resulting sum now sufficed for most middle-class 
needs, but because even my money sbone in her eyes with the 
magic of my manliness, and she saw our joint account as one 
of those southern boulevards at midday that have solid shade 
on one side and smooth sunshine on the other, all the way 
to the end of a prospect, where pink mountains loom. 

Into the fifty days of our cohabitation Charlotte crammed 
the activities of as many years. The poor woman busied her- 
self with a number of things she had foregone long before or 
had never been much interested in, as if (to prolong these 
Proustian intonations) by my marrying the mother of the 1 
child I loved I had enabled my wife to regain an abundance : 
of youth by proxy. With the zest of a banal young bride, she 
started to "glorify the home.” Knowing as I did its every ! 

cranny by heart — since those days when from my chair I ' 

mentally mapped out Lolita's course through the house — I j 

had long entered into a sort of emotional relationship with 
it, with its very ugliness and dirt, and now I could almost feel 
the wretched thing cower in its reluctance to endure the bath 
of ecru and ocher and putty-buff-and-snuff that Charlotte 
planned to give it She never got as far as that thank God, 
but she did use up a tremendous amount of energy in wash- 
ing window shades, waxing the slats of Venetian blinds, pur- 
chasing new shades and new blinds, returning them to the 
store, replacing them by others, and so on, in a constant ’ i 
chiaroscuro of smiles and frowns, doubts and pouts. She | 

dabbled in cretonnes and chintzes; she changed the colors of ; 

the sofa — the sacred sofa where a bubble of paradise had once \ 

burst in slow’ motion within me. She rearranged the furniture j 

• — and was pleased when she found, in a household treatise, ; 

that "it is permissible to separate a pair of sofa commodes and [ 

their companion lamps.” With the authoress of Your Home - 

Is You, she developed a hatred for little lean chairs and spindle • 

tables. She believed that a room having a generous expanse 
of glass, and lots of rich wood paneling was an example of the I 
masculine type of room, whereas the feminine type was j 
characterized by lighter-looking windows and frailer wood- j 
work. The novels I had found her reading when I moved in 
were now replaced by illustrated catalogues and faomemaking 
guides. From a firm located at 4640 Roosevelt Blvd., Phila- 
delphia, she ordered for our double bed a "damask covered 
?12 coil mattress” — although the old one seemed to me re- 
silient and durable enough for whatever it had to support. j 

73 I 


_ A Midwesterner, as her late husband had also been, she had 
lived in-coy Ramsdale, the gem of an eastern state, not long 
enough to know all the nice people. She knew slightly the 
jovial dentist who lived in a kind of ramshackle wooden 
chateau behind our lawn. She had met at a church tea the 
“snooty” wife of the local junk dealer who owned the “colo- 
nial” white horror at the comer of the avenue. Now and then 
she "visited with” old Miss Opposite; but the more patrician 
matrons among those she called upon,- or met at lawn func- 
tions, or had telephone chats with — such dainty ladies as Mis. 
Glave, Mrs. Sheridan, Mrs. McCrystal, Mrs. Knight and 
others, seldom seemed to call on my neglected Charlotte. 
Indeed, the only couple with whom she had relations of real 
cordiality, devoid of any arriere-pensee or practical foresight, 
were the Farlows who had just come back from a business trip 
to Chile in time to attend our wedding, with the Chatfields, 
McCoos, and a few others (but not Mrs. Junk or the even 
prouder Mrs. Talbot) . John Farlow was a middle-aged, quiet, 
quietly athletic, quietly successful dealer in sporting goods, 
who had an office at Parldngton, forty miles away: it was he 
who got me the cartridges for that Colt and showed me how 
to use it, during a walk in the woods one Sunday; he was also 
what he called with a smile a part-time lawyer and had handled 
some of Charlotte’s affairs. Jean, his youngish wife (and first 
cousin), was a long-limbed girl in harlequin glasses with two 
boxer dogs, two pointed breasts and a big red mouth. She 
painted — landscapes and portraits — and vividly do I remember 
praising, over cocktails, the picture she had made of a niece 
of hers, little Rosaline Honeck, a rosy honey in a Girl Scout 
uniform, beret of green worsted, belt of green webbing, 
charming shoulder-long curls — and John removed his pipe 
and said it was a pity Dolly (my Dolita) and Rosaline were so 
critical of each other at school, but he hoped, and we all 
hoped, they would get on better when they returned from 
their respective camps. We talked of the school. It had its 
drawbacks, and it had its virtues. “Of course, too many of the 
tradespeople here are Italians,” said John, “but on the other 
hand we are still spared — ” “I wish,” interrupted Jean with a 
laugh, “Dolly and Rosaline were spending the summer to- 
gether.” Suddenly I imagined Lo returning from camp — 
brown, warm, drowsy, drugged — and was ready to weep with 
passion and impatience. 


74 



19 


A few words more about Mrs. Humbert while the going is 
good (a bad accident is to happen quite soon). I had been 
always aware of the possessive streak in her, but 1 never 
thought she would be so crazily jealous of anything in my life 
that had not been she. She showed a fierce insatiable curiosity 
for my past. She desired me to resuscitate all my loves so that 
she might make me insult them, and trample upon them, and 
revoke them apostately and totally, thus destroying my past. 
She made me tell her about my marriage to Valeria, who was 
of course a scream; but I also had to invent, or to pad atro- 
ciously, a long series of mistresses for Charlotte’s morbid 
delectation. To keep her happy, I had to present her with an 
illustrated catalogue of them, all nicely differentiated, accord- 
ing to the rules of those American ads where schoolchildren 
are pictured in a subtle ratio of races, with one — only one, but 
as cute as they make them — chocolate-colored round-eyed 
little lad, almost in the very middle of the front row. So I 
presented my women, and had them smile and sway — the 
languorous blond, the fiery brunette, the sensual copperhead — 
as if on parade in a bordello. The more popular and platitu- 
dinous I made them, the more Mrs. Humbert was pleased with 
the show. 

Never in my life had I confessed so much or received so 
many confessions. The sincerity and artlessness with which she 
discussed what she called her “love-life,” from first necking to 
connubial catch-as-catch-can, were, ethically, in striking con- 
trast with my glib compositions, but technically the two sets 
were congeneric since both were affected by the same stuff 
(soap operas, psychoanalysis and cheap novelettes) upon 
which I drew for my characters and she for her mode of ex- 
pression. I was considerably amused by certain remarkable sex- 
ual habits that the good Harold Haze had had according to 
Charlotte who thought my mirth improper, but otherwise 
her autobiography was as devoid of interest as her autopsy 
would have been. I never saw a healthier woman than she, 
despite thinning diets. 



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75 




Of my Lolita she seldom spoke — more seldom, in fact, than 
she did of the blurred, blond male baby whose photograph 
-to the exclusion of all others adorned our bleak bedroom. In 
one of her tasteless reveries, she predicted that the dead in- 
fant* s soul would return to earth in the form of the child she 
would bear in her present wedlock. And although I felt no 
special urge to supply the Humbert line with a replica of 
Harold's production (Lolita, with an incestuous thrill, I had 
grown to regard as my child), it occurred to me that a pro- 
longed confinement, with a nice Caesarean operation and 
other complications in a safe maternity ward sometime next 
spring, would give me a chance to be alone with my Lolita for 
weeks, perhaps — and gorge the limp nymphet with sleeping 
pills. 

Oh, she simply hated her daughter! What I thought espe- 
cially vicious was that she had gone out of her way to mswer 
with great diligence the questionnaires in a fool’s book she had 
(A Guide to Your Child’s Development), published in Chi- 
cago. The rigmarole went year by year, and Mom was sup- 
posed to fill out a kind of inventory at each of her child's 
birthdays. On Lo’s twelfth, January 1, 1947, Charlotte Haze, 
nde Becker, had underlined the following epithets, ten out of 
forty, under ‘Tour Child's Personality”: aggressive, boisterous, 
critical, distrustful, impatient, irritable, inquisitive, listless, 
negativistic (underlined twice) and obstinate. She had ignored 
the thirty remaining adjectives, among which were cheerful, 
co-operative, energetic, and so forth. It was really maddening. 
With a brutality that otherwise never appeared in my loving 
wife’s mild nature, she attacked and routed such of Lo’s 
little belongings that had wandered to various parts of the 
house to freeze there like so many hypnotized bunnies. Little 
did the good lady dream that one morning when an upset 
stomach (the result of my trying to improve on her sauces) 
had prevented me from accompanying her to church, I de- 
ceived her with one of Lolita’s anklets. And then, her attitude 
toward my saporous darling’ s letters! 

Dear Mommy and Hommy, 

Hope you are fine. Thank you very much for the candy. 

I [crossed out and re-written again] I lost my new sweater 

in the woods. It has been cold here for the last few days. 

I'm having a time. Love. 


76 


Dolly 



“The dumb child," said Mis. Humbert, "has left out a word 
before ‘time/ That sweater was all-wool, and I wish you would 
not send her candy without consulting me.” 


20 


There was a woodlake (Hourglass Lake — not as I had 
thought it was spelled) a few miles from Ramsdale, and there 
was one week of great heat at the end of July when we drove 
there daily. I am now obliged to describe in some tedious detail 
our last swim together, one tropical Tuesday morning. 

We had left the car in a parting area not far from the road 
and were making our way down a path cut through the pine 
forest to the lake, when Charlotte remarked that Jean Farlow, 
in quest of rare light effects (Jean belonged to the old school 
of painting), had seen Leslie taking a dip “in the ebony" (as 
John had quipped) at five o’clock in the morning last Sunday. 

“The water,” I said, “must have been quite cold.” 

“That is not the point,” said the logical doomed dear. “He 
is subnormal, you see. And,” she continued (in that carefully 
phrased way of hers that was beginning to tell on my health), 
“I have a very definite feeling our Louise is in love with that 
moron.” 

Feeling. “We feel Dolly is not doing as well” etc. (from an 
old school report). 

The Humberts walked on, sandaled and robed. 

“Do you know. Hum: I have one most ambitions dream,” 
pronounced Lady Hum, lowering her bead — sby of that dream 
—and communing with the tawny ground. “I w-ould love to 
get hold of a real trained servant maid like that German girl 
the Talbots spoke of; and have her live in the house.” 

“No room,” I said. 

“Come,” she said with her quizzical smile, "surely, chdri, 
you underestimate the possibilities of the Humbert home. We 
wnuld put her in Lo’s room. I intended to make a guestroom 
of that hole anyway. It’s the coldest and meanest in the whole 
house.” 

“What are you talking about?” I asked, the skin of my 
cheekbones tensing up (this I take the trouble to note only 

77 



because my daughter’s skin did the same when she felt that 
way: disbelief, disgust, irritation) . 

"Are you bothered by Romantic Associations?” queried my 
wife — in allusion to her first surrender. 

"Hell no,” said I. "I just wonder where will you put your 
daughter when you get your guest or your maid.” 

"Ah,” said Mrs. Humbert, dreaming, smiling, drawing out 
the “Ah” simultaneously with the raise of one eyebrow and a 
soft exhalation of breath. "Little Lo, I'm afraid, does not enter 
the picture at all, at all. Little Lo goes straight from camp to 
a good boarding school with strict discipline and some sound 
religious training. And then — Beardsley College. I have it all 
mapped out, you need not worry.” 

She went on to say that she, Mrs. Humbert, would have to 
overcome her habitual sloth and write to Miss Phalen’s sister 
who taught at St. Algebra. The dazzling lake emerged. I said I 
had forgotten my sunglasses in the car and would catch up 
with her. 

I had always thought that wringing one’s hands was a fio- 
fcional gesture — the obscure outcome, perhaps, of some me- 
dieval ritual; but as I took to the woods, for a spell of despair 
and desperate meditation, this was the gesture ("look. Lord, 
at these chains!”) that would have come nearest to the mute 
expression of my mood. 

Had Charlotte been Valeria, I would have known how to 
handle the situation; and "handle” is the word I want. In the 
good old days, by merely twisting fat Valeria’s brittle wrist 
(the one she had fallen upon from a bicycle) I could make 
her change her mind instantly; but anything of the sort in 
regard to Charlotte was unthinkable. Bland American Char- 
lotte frightened me. My lighthearted dream of controlling 
her through her passion for me was all wrong. I dared not do 
anything to spoil the image of me she had set up to adore. I 
had toadied to her when she was the awesome duenna of my 
darling, and a groveling something still persisted in my atti- 
tude toward her. The only ace I held was her ignorance of my 
monstrous love for her Lo. She had been annoyed by Los 
liking me; but my feelings she could not divine. To Valeria I 
might have said: “Look here, you fat fool, c’est moi qai decide 
what is good for Dolores Humbert.” To Charlotte, I could not 
even say (with ingratiating calm) : "Excuse me, my dear, I dis- 
agree. Let us give the child one more chance. Let me be her 
private tutor for a year or so. You once told me yourself — ” 

78 


In fact, I could not say anything at all to Charlotte about the 
child without giving myself away. Oh, you cannot imagine (as 
I had never imagined) what these women of principle are! 
Charlotte, who did not notice the falsity of all the everyday 
conventions and rules of behavior, and foods, and boohs, and 
people sbe doted upon, would distinguish at once a false in- 
tonation in anything I might say with a view to keeping Lo 
near. She was like a musician who may be an odious vulgarian 
in ordinary life, devoid of tact and taste; but who will hear a 
false note in music with diabolical accuracy of judgment. To 
break Charlotte’s will, I would have to break her heart If I 
broke her heart, her image of me. would break too. If I said: 
"Either I have my way with Lolita, and yon help me to keep 
the matter quiet, or we part at once,” she would have tamed as 
pale as a woman of clouded glass and slowly replied: "AH 
right, whatever you add or retract, this is the end.” And 
the end it would he. 

Such, then, was the mess. I remember reaching the parking 
area and pumping a handful of rust-tasting water, and drinking 
it as avidly as if it could give me magic wisdom, youth, free- 
dom, a tiny concubine. For a while, purple-robed, heel-dan- 
gling, I sat on the edge of one of the rude tables, under the 
wooshing pines. In the middle distance, two little maidens in 
shorts and halters came out of a sun-dappled privy marked 
"Women." Gum-chewing Mabel (or Mabel’s understudy) 
laboriously, absent-mindedly, straddled a bicycle, and Marion, 
shaking her hair because of the flies, settled behind, legs wide 
apart; and, wobbling, they slowly, absently, merged with the 
light and shade. Lolital Father and daughter melting into 
these woodsl The natural solution was to destroy Mrs. Hum- 
bert. But how? 

No man can bring about the perfect murder; chance, how- 
ever, can do it There was the famous dispatch of a Mme 
LacouHn Arles, southern France, at the dose of last century. 
An unidentified bearded six-footer, who, it was later con- 
jectured, had been the lady's secret lover, walked up to her in 
a crowded street, soon after her marriage to Colonel Lacour, 
and mortally stabbed her in the back, three times, while the 
Colonel, a small bulldog of a man, bung onto the murderer’s 
arm. By a miraculous and beautiful coincidence, right at the 
moment when the operator was in the act of loosening the 
angry little husband s jaws (while several onlookers were clos- 
ing m upon the group), a crank}’ Italian in the house nearest 

79 


to the scene set off by sheer accident some hind of explosive 
he was tinkering with, and immediately the street was turned 
into a pandemonium of smoke, felling bricks and running 
people. The explosion hurt no one (except that it knocked out 
game Colonel Lacour); but the lady’s vengeful lover ran 
when the others ran — and lived happily ever after. 

Now look what happens when the operator himself plans a 
perfect removal. 

I walked down to Hourglass Lake. The spot from which we 
and a few other "nice” couples (the Farlows, the Chatfields) 
bathed was a kind of small cove; .my Charlotte liked it because 
it was almost "a private beach.” The main bathing facilities 
(or "drowning facilities” as the Ramsdale Journal had had 
occasion to say) were in the left (eastern) part of the hour- 
glass, and could not be seen from our covelet. To our right, the 
pines soon gave way to a curve of marshland which turned 
again into forest on the opposite side. 

I sat down beside my wife so noiselessly that she started. 

"Shall we go in?” she-asked. 

"We shall in a minute. Let me follow a train of thought” 

I thought. More than a minute passed. 

"All right. Come on.” 

‘Was I on that train?” 

"You certainly were.” 

"I hope so,” said Charlotte entering the water. It soon 
reached the gooseflesh of her thick thighs; and then, joining 
her out-stretched hands, shutting her mouth tight very plain- 
faced in her black rubber headgear, Charlotte flung herself 
forward with a great splash. 

Slowly we swam out into the shimmer of the lake. 

On the opposite bank, at least a thousand paces away (if one 
could walk across water), I could make out the tiny figures of 
two men working like beavers on their stretch of shore. I knew 
exactly who they were: a retired policeman of Polish descent 
and the retired plumber who owned most of the timber on 
that side of the lake. And I also knew they were engaged in 
building, just for the dismal fun of the thmg, a wharf. The 
knocks that reached us seemed so much bigger than what 
could be distinguished of those dwarfs’ arms and tools; indeed, 
one suspected the director of those acrosonic effects to have 
been at odds with the puppet-master, especially since the hefty 
crack of each diminutive blow lagged behind its visual version. 

The short white-sand strip of "our” beach — from which by 

80 



now we had gone a little way to teach deep water — -was empty 
on weekday mornings. There was nobody around except those 
two tiny very busy figures on the opposite side, and a dark-red 
private plane that droned overhead, and then disappeared in 
the blue. The setting was really perfect for a brisk bubbling 
murder, and here was the subtle point: the man of law and the 
man of water were just near enough to witness an accident and 
just far enough not to observe a crime. They were near enough 
to hear a distracted bather thrashing about and bellowing for 
somebody to come and help him save his drowning wife; and 
they were too far to distinguish {if they happened to look too 
soon) that the anything but distracted swimmer was finishing 
to tread his wife underfoot I was not yet at that stage; I merely 
want to convey the ease of the act, the nicety of the settingl 
So there was Charlotte swimming on with dutiful awkwardness 
(she was a very mediocre mermaid) , but not without a certain 
solemn pleasure (for was not her merman by ber side?); and 
as I watched, with the stark lucidity of a future recollection 
(you know — trying to see things as you wall remember haring 
seen them), the glossy whiteness of her writ face so little 
tanned despite all her endeavors, and her pale lips, and her 
naked convex forehead, and the tight black cap, and the 
plump wet neck, I knew that all I had to do was to drop back, 
take a deep breath, then grab her by the ankle and rapidly dive 
with my captive corpse. I say corpse because surprise, panic 
and inexperience would cause her to inhale at once a lethal 
gallon of lake, while I would be able to bold on for at least a 
full minute, open-eyed under water. The fatal gesture passed 
like the tail of a falling star across the blackness of the con- 
templated crime. It was like some dreadful silent ballet, the 
male dancer holding the ballerina by her foot and streaking 
down through water}- twilight I might come up for a mouthful 
of air while still holding her down, and then would dive again 
as many times as would be necessary', and only when the cur- 
tain came down on her for good, would I permit myself to yell 
for help. And when some twenty minutes later the two pup- 
pets steadily growing arrived in a rowboat one half newly 
painted, poor Mrs. Humbert Humbert, the victim of cramp 
or coronary occlusion, or both, would be standing on her head 
in the inky ooze, some thirty feet below the smiling surface 
of Hourglass Lake. 

Simple, was it not? But what d’ye know, folks — I just could 
not make myself do it! 


SI 


She swam beside me, a trustful and clumsy seal, and all the 
logic of passion screamed in my ear: Now is the time! And, 
folks, I just couldn’tl In silence I turned shoreward and grave- 
ly, dutifully, she also turned, and still hell screamed its counsel, 
and still I could not make myself drown the poor, slippery, 
big-bodied creature. The scream grew more and more remote 
as I realized the -melancholy fact that neither tomorrow, nor 
Friday, nor any other day or night, could I make myself put 
her to death. Oh, I could visualize myself slapping Valeria’s 
' breasts out of alignment, or otherwise hurting her — and I 
could see myself, no less clearly, shooting her lover in the un- 
derbelly and making him say “akh!” and sit down. But I could 
not kill Charlotte — especially when things were on the whole 
not quite as hopeless, perhaps, as they seemed at first wince on 
that miserable morning. Were I to catch her by her strong 
kicking foot; were I to see her amazed look, hear her awful 
voice; were I still to go through with the ordeal, her ghost 
would haunt me all my life. Perhaps if the year were 1447 
instead of 1947 I might have hoodwinked my gentle nature by 
administering her some classical poison from a hollow agate, 
some tender philter of death. But in our middle-class nosy era 
it would not have come off the way it used to in the brocaded 
palaces of the past. Nowadays you have to be a scientist if you 
want to be a killer. No, no, I was neither. Ladies and gentle- 
men of the jury, the majority of sex offenders that hanker for 
some throbbing, sweet-moaning, physical but not necessarily 
coital, relation with a girl-child, are innocuous, inadequate, 
passive, timid strangers who merely ask the community to 
allow them to pursue their practically harmless, so-called aber- 
rant behavior, their little hot wet private acts of sexual devia- 
tion without the police and society cracking down upon Them. 
We are not sex fiends! We do not rape as good soldiers do. 
We are unhappy, mild, dog-eyed gentlemen, sufficiently well 
integrated to control our urge in the presence of adults, but 
ready to give years and years of life for one chance to touch 
a nymphet. Emphatically, no killers are we. Poets never kffi. 
Oh, my poor Charlotte, do not hate me in your eternal heaven 
among an eternal alchemy of asphalt and rubber and metal and 
stone — but thank God, not water, not water I 

Nonetheless it was a very close shave, speaking quite ob- 
jectively. And now comes the point of my perfect-crime para- 
blei 

Wc sat down on our towels in the thirsty sun. She looked 

82 


sraund, loosened ter bra, and tamed over on ter stomach to 
give her tack a chance to be feasted upon. She said she loved 
me. She sighed deeply. She extended one arm and groped in 
the pocket of her robe for her cigarettes. She sat up and 
smoked. She examined her right shoulder. She kissed me 
heavily with open smoky mouth. Suddenly, down the sand 
tank behind ns, from under the bushes and pines, a stone 
rolled, then another. 

“Those disgusting prying kids,” said Charlotte, holding up 
her big bra to her breast and taming prone again. “I shall haw 
to speak about that to Peter Krestovsld.” 

From the debouchment of the trail came a rustle, a footfall, 
and Jean Farlow marched down with her easel and things. 

“You scared us,” said Charlotte. 

Jean said she had been up there, in a place of green conceal- 
ment, spying on nature (spies are generally shot), trying to 
finish a lakescape, but it was no good, she had no talent what- 
ever (which was quite true) — “And have you ever tried paint- 
ing, Humbert?" Charlotte, who was a little Jealous of Jean, 
wanted to know if John was coming. 

He was. He was coming home for lunch today. He had 
dropped her on the way to Parkington and should be picking 
her up any time now. It was a grand morning. She always felt 
a traitor to Cavall and Melampus for I earing them roped on 
such gorgeous days. She sat down on the white sand between 
Charlotte and me. She wore shorts. Her long brown legs were 
about as attractive to me as those of a chestnut mare. She 
showed her gums when she smiled. 

“I almost put both of you into my lake,” she said. "I even 
noticed something you overlooked. You [addressing Humbert] 
had your wrist watch on in, yes, sir, you had.” 

“Waterproof,” said Charlotte softly, making a fish mouth. 

_ Jean took my wrist upon her knee and examined Charlotte’s 
gift, then put tack Humbert’s hand on the sand, palm up. 

“You could see anything that way," remarked Charlotte 
coquettishly. 

Jean sighed. “I once saw,” she said, “two children, male and 
female, at sunset, right here, making love. Their stadows were 
giants. And I told you about Mr. Tomson at daybreak. Next 
tiinc I expect to see fat old Ivor in the ivory. He is really a 
freak, that man. Last time he told me a completely indecent 
story about his nephew. It appears — “ 

“Hullo there,” said John’s voice. 

S3 



21 


My habit of being silent when displeased, or, more exactly, 
the cold and scaly quality of my displeased silence, used to 
frighten Valeria out of her wits. She used to whimper and wad, 
saying “Ce qui me rend folle, c’est que ;'e ne. sais 4 quoi tu 
pen ses quand tu es comme fa.” I tried being silent with Char- 
lotte — and she just chirped on, or chucked my silence under 
the chin. An astonishing womanl I would retire to my former 
room, now a regular “studio,” mumbling I had after all a 
learned opus to write, and cheerfully Charlotte went on beau- 
tifying the home, warbling on the telephone and writing let- 
ters. From my window, through the lacquered shiver of poplar 
leaves, I could see her crossing the street and contentedly mafl- 
ing her letter to Miss Phalen's sister. 

The week of scattered showers and shadows which elapsed 
after our last visit to the motionless sands of Hourglass Lake 
was one of the gloomiest I can recall. Then came two or three 
dim rays of hope — before the ultimate sunburst 

It occurred to me that I had a fine brain in beautiful work- 
ing order and that I might as well use it. If I dared not meddle 
with my wife's plans for her daughter (getting wanner and 
browner every day in the fair weather of hopeless distance), I 
could surely devise some general means to assert myself in a 
general way that might be later directed toward a particular 
occasion. One evening, Charlotte herself provided me with an 
opening. 

“I have a surprise for you,” she said looking at me with fond 
eyes over a spoonful of soup. “In the fall we two are going to 
England.” 

I swallowed my spoonful, wiped my lips with pink paper 
(Oh, the cool rich linens of Mirana Hotel!) and said: 

“I have also a surprise for you, my dear. We two are not go- 
ing to England.” 

"Why, what's the matter?” she said, looking — with more 
surprise than I had counted upon — at my hands (I was invol- 
untarily folding and tearing and crushing and tearing again the 
innocent pink napkin). My smiling face set her somewhat at 
ease, however. 

“The matter is quite simple,” I replied. “Even in the most 

84 


harmonious o £ households, as ours is, not all decisions are 
taken by the female partner. There are certain things that the 
husband is there to decide. I can well imagine the thnU that 
you, a healthy American- gal, must experience at crossing the 
Atlantic on the same ocean liner with Lady Bumble — or Sam 
Bumble, the Frozen Meat King, or a Hollywood harlot. And 
I doubt not that you and I would make a pretty ad for the 
Traveling Agency when portrayed looking — you, frankly starry- 
eyed, I, controlling my envious admiration — at the Palace 
Sentries, or Scarlet Guards, or Beaver Eaters, or whatever 
they are called. Bnt I happen to be allergic to Europe, includ- 
ing merry old England. As you well know, I have nothing but 
very sad associations with the Old and rotting World. No 
colored ads in your magazines will change the situation.” 

“My darling,” said Charlotte. "I really — ” 

"No, wait a minute. The present matter is only incidental. 
I am concerned with a general trend. When you wanted me to 
spend my afternoons sunbathing on the Lake instead of doing 
my work, I gladly gave in and became a bronzed glamor hoy for 
your sake, instead of remaining a scholar and, well, an edu- 
cator. When you lead me to bridge and bourbon with the 
charming Farlows, I meekly follow. No, please, wait. When 
you decorate your home, I do not interfere with your schemes. 
When you decide — when yon decide all kinds of matters, I 
may be in complete, or in partial, let us say, disagreement — 
but I say nothing. I ignore the particular. I cannot ignore the 
general. I love being bossed by yon, but every game has its 
rules. I am not cross. I am not cross at all. Don’t do that. But 
I am one half of this household, and have a small bat distinct 
voice.” 

She had come to my side and had fallen on her knees and 
was slowly, but very vehemently, shaking her head and clawing 
at my trousers. She said she had never realized. She said I was 
her ruler and her god. She said Louise had gone, and let us 
make love rightaway. She said I must forgive her or she would 
die. 

This little incident filled me with considerable elation. I told 
her quietly that it was a matter not of asking forgiveness, but 
of chancing one’s ways; and I resolved to press my advantage 
and spend a good deal of time, aloof and moody/ working at 
my book — or 3t least pretending to work. 

The "studio bed” in my former room had long been con- 
verter! into the sofa it had always been at heart, and Charlotte 

85 



had warned me since the very beginning of our cohabitation 
that gradually the room would be turned into a regular “writ- 
e . r ' s . A couple of days after the British Incident, I was 
sitting in a new and very comfortable easy chair, with a large 
volume in my lap, when Charlotte rapped with her ring finger 
and sauntered in. How different were her movements from 
those of my Lolita, when she used to visit me in her dear dirty 
blue jeans, smelling of orchards in nymphetland; awkward and 
fey, and dimly depraved, the lower buttons of her shirt un- 
fastened. Let me tell you, however, something. Behind the 
brashness of little Haze, and the poise of big Haze, a trickle 
of shy life ran that tasted the same, that murmured the same. 
A great French doctor once told my father that in near rela- 
tives the faintest gastric gurgle has the same “voice.” 

So Charlotte sauntered in. She felt all was not well between 
us. I had pretended to fall asleep the night before, and the 
night before that, as soon as we had gone to bed, and had risen 
at dawn. 

Tenderly, she inquired if she were not “interrupting.” 

“Not at the moment,” I said, turning volume C of the Girls' 
Encyclopedia around to examine a picture printed “bottom- 
edge” as printers say. 

Charlotte went up to a little table of imitation mahogany 
with a drawer. She put her hand upon it. The little table was 
ugly, no doubt, but it had done nothing to her. 

“I have always wanted to ask you,” she said (businesslike, 
not coquettish), “why is this thing locked up? Do you want it 
in this room? It’s so abominably uncouth.” 

“Leave it alone,” I said. I was Camping in Scandinavia. 

“Is there a key?” 

“Hidden.” 

“Oh, Hum ...” 

“Locked up love letters.” 

She gave me one of those wounded-doe looks that hntated 
me so much, and then, not quite knowing if I was serious, or 
how to keep up the conversation, stood for several slow pages 
(Campus,' Canada, Candid Camera, Candy) peering at the 
windowpane rather than through it, drumming upon it with 
sharp almond-and-rose fingernails. 

Presently (at Canoeing or Canvasback) she strolled up to 
my chair and sank down, tweedily, weightily, on its arm, in- 
undating me with the perfume my first wife had used. 'Would 
his lordship like to spend the fall here?” she asked, pointing 

86 



■prith her little finger at an autumn view in a conservative East- 
ern State. “Why?” (very distinctly and slowly). She shrugged. 
(Probably Harold used to take a vacation at that time. Open 
season. Conditional reflex on her part) 

“l think I know where that is,” she said, still pointing. 
“There is a hotel I remember, Enchanted Hunters, quaint, 
isn’t it? And the food is a dream. And nobody bothers any- 
body." 

She rubbed her check against my temple. Valeria soon got 
over that 

“Is there anything special you would like for dinner, dear? 
John and Jean will drop in later." 

I answered with a grunt She kissed me on my underlip, and, 
brightly saying she would bake a cake (a tradition subsisted 
from my lodging days that 1 adored her cakes) , left me to my 
idleness. , 

Carefully putting down the open hook where she bad sat 
(it attempted to send forth a rotation of waves, but an inserted 
pencil stopped the pages), I checked the hiding place of the 
key: rather self-consciously it lay under the old expensive safety 
razor I had used before she bought me a much better and 
cheaper one. Was it the perfect hiding place — there, under 
that razor, in the groove of its velvet-lined case? The case lay in 
a small trunk where I kept various business papers. Could I 
improve upon this? Remarkable how difficult it is to conceal 
things — especially when one’s wife keeps monkeying with the 
furniture. 


22 


I think, it was exactly a week after our last swim that the 
noon mail brought a reply from the second Miss Phalen. The 
lady wrote she had just returned to St Algebra from her sister’s 
funeral. “Euphemia had never been the same after breaking 
that hip.” As to the matter of Mrs. Humbert’s daughter, she 
wished to report that it was too late to enroll her this year; 
but that she, the surviving Phalen, was practically certain that 
if Mr. and Mrs. Humbert brought Dolores over in January, her 
admittance might be arranged. 

Next day, after lunch, I went to see “our” doctor, a friendly 
fellow whose perfect bedside manner and complete reliance 

87 1 



°n a few patented drugs adequately masked his ignorance of, 
and indifference to, medical science. The fact that Lo would 
have to come back to Ramsdale was a treasure of anticipation. 
For this event I wanted to be fully prepared. I had in fact be- 
gun my campaign earlier, before Charlotte made that cruel 
decision of hers. I had to be sure when my lovely child arrived, 
that very night, and then night after night, until St. Algebra 
took her away from me, I would possess the means of putting 
two creatures to sleep so thoroughly that neither sound nor 
touch should rouse them. Throughout most of July I had been 
experimenting with various sleeping powders, trying them out 
on Charlotte, a great taker of pills. The last dose I had given 
her (she thought it was a tablet of mild bromides — to anoint 
her nerves) had knocked her out for four solid hours. I had 
put the radio at full blast. I had blazed in her face an olisbos- 
like flashlight. I had pushed her, pinched her, prodded her — 
and nothing had disturbed the rhythm of her calm and power- 
ful breathing. However, when I had done such a simple thing 
as kiss her, she had awakened at once, as fresh and strong as an 
octopus (I barely escaped) . This would not do, I thought; had 
to get something still safer. At first. Dr. Byron did not seem to 
believe me when I said his last prescription was no match for 
my insomnia. He suggested I try again, and for a moment 
diverted my attention by showing me photographs of his 
family. He had a fascinating child of Dolly’s age; but I saw 
through his tricks and insisted he prescribe the mightiest pill 
extant. He suggested I play golf, hut finally agreed to give me 
something, that, he said, “would really work”; and going to a 
cabinet, he produced a vial of violet-blue capsules banded with 
dark purple at one end, wbicb, be said, bad just been placed 
-on the market and were intended not for neurotics whom a 
draft of water could calm if properly administered, but only 
for great sleepless artists who had to die for a few hours in 
order to live for centuries. I love to fool doctors, and though 
inwardly rejoicing, pocketed the pills with a skeptical shrug. 
Incidentally, I had had to be careful with him. Once, in an- 
other connection, a stupid lapse on my part made me mention 
my last sanatorium, and I thought I saw the tips of his ears 
twitch. Being not at all keen for Charlotte or anybody else 
to know that period of my "past, I had hastily explained that I 
had once done some research among the insane for a novel. 
But no matter; the old rogue certainly had a sweet girleen. 

I left in great spirits. Steering my wife’s car with one finger, 

88 


I contentedly rolled homeward. Ramsdale had, after all,' lots 
of charm. The cicadas whirred; the avenue had been freshly 
watered. Smoothly, almost silkSy, I turned down into our 
steep little street Everything was somehow so right that day. 

So blue and green. I knew the sun shone because my ignition 
key was reflected in the windshield; and I knew it was exactly 
half past , three because the nurse who came to massage Miss 
Opposite every afternoon was tripping down the narrow side- 
walk in her white stockings and shoes. As usual, Junk's hys- 
terical setter attacked me.as I rolled downhill, and as usual, the 
local paper was lying on the porch where it had just been 
hurled by Kenny. 

The day before I had ended the regime of aloofness I had 
imposed upon myself, and now uttered a cheerful homecoming ' 
call as I opened the door of the living room. With her cream- 
white nape and bronze bun to me, wearing the yellow blouse 
and maroon slacks she had on when I first met her, Charlotte - 
sat at the comer bureau writing a letter. My hand still on the 
doorknob, I repeated my hearty cry. Her writing hand stopped. 

She sat stall for a moment; then she slowly turned in her chair 
and rested her elbow on its cnrved back. Her face, disfigured 
by her emotion, was not a pretty sight as she stared at my legs 
and said: 

“The Haze woman, the big bitch, the old cat, the obnoxious 
mamma, the — the old stupid Haze is no longer yonr dupe. She 
has — she has ...” 

My fair accuser stopped, swallowing her venom and her 
tears. Whatever Humbert Humbert said — or attempted to say 
• — is inessential. She went on: 

“You’re a monster. You’re a detestable, abominable, crim- 
inal fraud. If you come near — I’ll scream out the window. Get 
backl” 

Again, whatever H.H. murmured may he omitted, I think. 

“I am leasing tonight This is all yours. Only you’ll never, 
never see that miserable brat again. Get out of this room.” 

Reader, I did. I went up to the ex-semi-studio. Arms akim- 
bo, I stood for a moment quite still and self-composed, sur- 
veying from the threshold the raped little table with its open 
drawer, a key hanging from the lock, four other household keys 
on the tabic top, I walked across the landing into the Hum- 
berts’ bedroom, and calmly removed my diary from under her 
pillow into my pocket. Then I started to walk downstairs, but ( 
( stopped halfway; she was talking on the telephone which hap- j 

89 j 




pened to be plugged just outside the door of' the living room. 
I wanted to hear what she was saying: she canceled an order 
for something or other, and returned to the parlor. I rearranged 
my respiration and went through the hallway to the kitchen. 
. There, I opened a bottle of Scotch. She could never resist 
Scotch. Then I walked into the dining room and from there, 
through the half-open door, contemplated Charlotte’s broad 
back. 

“You are ruining my life and yours,” I said quietly. "Let us 
be civilized people. It is all your hallucination. You are crazy, 
Charlotte. The notes you found were fragments of a novel. 
Your name and hers were put in by mere chance. Just because 
they came bandy. Think it over. I shall bring you a drink.” 

She neither answered nor turned, but went on writing in a 
scorching scrawl whatever she was writing. A third letter, pre- 
sumably (two in stamped envelopes were already laid out on 
the desk). I went back to the kitchen. 

I set out two glasses (to St Algebra? to Lo?) and opened 
the refrigerator. It roared at me viciously while I removed the 
ice from its heart. Rewrite. Let her read it again. She will not 
recall details. Change, forge. Write a fragment and show it to 
her or leave it lying around. Why do faucets sometimes whine 
so horribly? A horrible situation, really. The little pillow- 
shaped blocks of ice — pillows for polar teddy bear, Lo — 
emitted rasping, crackling, tortured sounds as the warm water 
loosened them in their cells. I bumped down the glasses side 
by side. I poured in the whiskey and a dram of soda. She had 
tabooed my pin. Bark and hang went the icebox. Carrying the 
glasses, I walked through the dining room and spoke through 
the parlor door which was a fraction ajar, not quite space 
enough for my elbow. 

"I have made you a drink,” I said. 

She did not answer, the mad bitch, and I placed the glasses 
on the sideboard near the telephone, which had started to ring. 

"Leslie speaking. Leslie Tomson,” said Leslie Tomson who 
favored a dip at dawn. "Mrs. Humbert, sir, has been run over 
and you’d better come quick.” 

I answered, perhaps a bit testily, that my wife was safe and 
sound, and still holding the receiver, I pushed open the door 
and said: - 

"There’s this man saying you’ve been Jailed, Charlotte. 

But there was no Charlotte in the living room. 


90 


23 


I rushed OUT. The far side of out steep little street presented a £ 

pec uli ar sight. A big black glossy Packard bad climbed Miss | 

Opposite’s sloping lawn at an angle from the sidewalk (where 1: 

a tartan laprobe had dropped in a heap), and stood there, p 

shining in the sun, its doors open like, wings, its front wheels r 

deep in evergreen shrubbery. To the anatomical right of this | 

car, on the trim turf of the lawn-slope, an old gentleman with f 

a white mustache, well-dressed — doublebreasted gray suit, j- 

polka-dotted bow-tie — lay supine, his long legs together, like a ; 

death-size wax figure. I have to put the impact of an instanta- . :■ 

neous vision into a sequence of words; their physical accumula- 
tion in the page impairs the actual flash, the sharp unity of ■> 
impression: Rug-heap, car, old man-doll. Miss O.'s nurse run- 
ning with a rustle, a half-empty tumbler in her hand, back to i 
the screened porch — where the propped-up, imprisoned, ■; 
decrepit lady herself may be imagined screeching, but not loud ; 
enough to drown the rhythmical yaps of the Junk setter walk-, 
ing from group to group — from a bunch of neighbors already 
collected on the sidewalk, near the bit of checked stuff, and 
back to the car which he had finally run to earth, and then to 
another group on the lawn, consisting of Leslie, two police- 
men and a sturdy man with tortoise shell glasses. At this point, 

I should explain that the prompt appearance of the patrolmen, 
hardly more than a minute after the accident, was due to their 
having been ticketing the illegally parked cars in a cross lane 
two blocks down the grade; that the fellow' with the glasses was 
Frederick Beale, Jr., driver of the Packard; that his 79-year-old 
father, whom the nurse had just watered on the green bank 
where he lay — a banked banker so to speak — was not in a dead 
feint, but was comfortably and methodically recovering from a 
mild heart attack or its possibility; and finally, that the laprobe 
on the sidewalk (where she had so often pointed out to me 
with disapproval the crooked green cracks) concealed the man- j 
glcd remains of Charlotte Humbert who had been knocked 
down and dragged several feet by the Beale car as she was 
hurrying across the street to drop three letters in the mailbox, 1 
at the comer of Miss Opposite’s lawn. These were picked up 
and handed to me by a pretty child in a dirty pink frock, and t 


I got rid of them by clawing them to fragments in my trouser 
pocket 

Three doctors and the Farlows presently arrived on the 
scene and took over. The widower, a man of exceptional self- 
control, neither wept nor raved. He staggered a bit, that he 
did; but he opened his mouth only to impart such information 
or issue such directions as were strictly necessaiy in connection 
with the identification, examination and disposal of a dead 
woman, the top of her head a porridge of bone, brains, bronze 
hair and blood. The sun was still a blinding red when he was 
put to bed in Dolly's room by his two friends, gentle John 
and dewy-eyed Jean; who, to be near, retired to the Hum- 
berts’ bedroom for the night; which, for all I know, they may 
not have spent as innocently as the solemnity of the occasion 
required. 

I have no reason to dwell, in this very special memoir, on 
the pre-funeral formalities that had to be attended to, or on 
the funeral itself, which was as quiet as the marriage had been. 
But a few incidents pertaining to those four or five days after 
Charlotte’s simple death, have to he noted. 

My first night of widowhood I was so drunk that I slept as 
soundly as the child who had slept in that bed. Next morning 
I hastened to inspect the fragments of letters in my pocket 
They had got too thoroughly mixed up to be sorted into three 
complete sets. I assumed that . . and you had better find it 
because I cannot buy . . came from a letter to Lo; and 
other fragments seemed to point to Charlotte’s intention of 
fleeing with Lo to Parkington, or even back to Pisky, lest the 
vulture snatch her precious lamb. Other tatters and shreds 
(never had I thought I had such strong talons) obviously 
referred to an application not to St. A. hut to another boarding 
school which was said to be so harsh and gray and gaunt in its 
methods (although supplying croquet under the elms) as to 
have earned the nickname of “Reformatory for Young Ladies.” 
Finally, the third epistle was obviously addressed to me. I 
made out such items as . . after a year of separation we 
may . . .” “. . . oh, my dearest, oh my . ^ . . worse 

than if it had been a woman you kept . . “• . . or, maybe, 

I shall die . . But on the whole my gleanings made little 
sense; the various fragments of those three hasty missives were 
as jumbled in the palms of my hands as their elements had 
been in poor Charlotte's head. 

That day John had to see a customer, and Jean had to feed 
her dogs, and so I was to be deprived temporarily of my friends’ 

92 



company. The dear people were afraid I might commit suicide 
if left alone, and since no other friends were available (Miss 
Opposite was incommunicado, the McCoos were busy build- 
ing a new house miles away, and the Cbatfields had been 
recently called to Maine by some family trouble of their own) , 
Leslie and Louise were commissioned to beep me company 
under the pretense of helping me to sort out and pack a mul- 
titude of orphaned things. In a moment of superb inspiration 
I showed the kind and credulous Fariows (we were waiting for 
Leslie to come for his paid tryst with Louise) a little photo- 
graph of Charlotte I had found among her affairs. From a 
boulder she smiled through blown hair. It had been taken in 
April 1934, a memorable spring. While on a business visit to 
the States, I had had occasion to spend several months in 
Pisky. We met — and had a mad love affair. I was married, 
alas, and she was engaged to Haze, but after I returned to 
Europe, we corresponded through a friend, now dead. Jean 
whispered she had heard some rumors and looked at the snap- 
shot, and, still looking, handed it to John, and John removed 
his pipe and looked at lovely and fast Charlotte Becker, and 
handed it back to me. Then they left for a few hours. Happy 
Louise was gurgling and scolding her swain in the basement. 

Hardly had the Fariows gone than a blue-chinned cleric 
called — and I tried to make the interview as brief as was con- 
sistent with neither hurting his feelings nor arousing his 
doubts. Yes, I would devote all my life to the child’s welfare. 
Here, incidentally, was a little cross that Charlotte Becker 
had given me when we were both young. I had a female 
cousin, a respectable spinster in New York. There we would 
find a good private school for Dolly. Oh, what a crafty Hum- 
bert! 

For the benefft of Leslie and Louise who might (and did) 
report it to John and Jean I made a tremendously loud and 
beautifully enacted long-distance call and simulated a conver- 
sation with Shirley Holmes. When John and Jean returned, 
I completely took them in by telling them, in a deliberately 
wild and confused mutter, that Lo had gone with the inter- 
mediate group on a five-day hike and could not he reached. 

"Good Lord.” said Jean, "what shall we do?” 

John said it was perfectly simple— -he would get the Climax 
police to find the hikers — it would not take them an hour. In 
fact, he knew the country and — 

"Look.” he continued, "whv don’ I drive there richt now 
anu you may sleep with Jean’’— (he did not reallv add that 

93 


but Jean supported bis offer so passionately that it might he 
implied). ' 

I broke down. I pleaded with John to let things remain the 
way they were. I said I could not bear to have the child all 
around me, sobbing, clinging to me, she was so high-strung, 
the experience might react on her future, psychiatrists have 
analyzed such cases. There was a sudden pause. 

"Well, you are the doctor,” said John a little bluntly. "But 
after all I was Charlotte’s friend and adviser. One would like 
to know what you are going to do about the child anyway.” 

"John,” cried Jean, "she is his child, not Harold Haze’s. 
Don’t you understand? Humbert is Dolly's real father.” 

“I see,” said John. “I am sorry. Yes, I see. I did not realize 
that. It simplifies matters, of course. And whatever you feel is 
right." 

The distraught father went on to say he would go and fetch 
his delicate daughter immediately after the funeral, and would 
do his best to give her a good time in totally different sur- 
roundings, perhaps a trip to New ’Mexico or California — 
granted, of course, he lived. 

So artistically did I impersonate the calm of ultimate de- 
spair, the hush before some crazy outburst, that the perfect 
Farlows removed me to their house. They had a good cellar, 
ns cellars go in this country; and that was helpful, for I feared 
insomnia and a ghost. 

Now I must explain my reasons for keeping Dolores away. 
Naturally, at first, when Charlotte had just been eliminated 
and I re-entered the house a free father, and gulped down the 
two whiskey-and-sodas I had prepared, and topped them with 
a pint or two of my "pin,” and went to the bathroom to get 
away from neighbors and friends, there was but one thing in 
my mind and pulse — namely, the awareness that a few hours 
hence, warm, brown-haired, and mine, mine, mine, Lolita 
would be in my arms, shedding tears that I would kiss away 
faster than they could well. But as I stood wide-eyed and 
flushed before the mirror, John Farlow tenderly tapped to 
inquire if I was okay — and I immediately realized it would 
be madness .on my part to have her in the house with all 
those busybodies milling around and scheming to take her 
away from me. Indeed, unpredictable Lo herself might — who 
knows? — show some foolish distrust of me, a sudden repug- 
nance, vague fear and the like — and gone would be the magic 
prize at the very instant of triumph. 

Speaking of busybodies, I had another visitor — friend Beale, 

94 



the fellow who eliminated my wife. Stodgy and solemn, look- 
ing like a kind of assistant executioner, with his bulldog jowls, 
small black eyes, thickly rimmed glasses and conspicuous nos- 
trils, he was ushered in by^ohn who then left ns, closing the 
door upon us, with the utmost tact Suavely saying he had 
twins in my stepdaughter's class, my grotesque visitor un- 
rolled a large diagram he had made of the accident. It was, 
as my stepdaughter would have put it, “a beaut, ' with all 
kinds of impressive arrows and dotted lines in varicolored 
inks. Mrs. H. H.’s trajectory was illustrated at several points 
by a series of those little outline figures — doll-like wee career 
girl or WAC — used in statistics as visual aids. Very clearly 
and conclusively, this route came into contact with a boldly 
traced sinuous line representing two consecutive swerves — 
one which the Beale car made to avoid the Junk dog (dog 
not shown), and the second, a kind of exaggerated continua- 
tion of the first, meant to avert the tragedy. A very black cross 
indicated the spot where the trim little outline figure had at 
last come to rest on the sidewalk. I looked for some similar 
mark to denote the place on the embankment where my 
visitor's huge wax father had reclined, but there was none. 
That gentleman, however, had signed the document as a 
witness underneath the name of Leslie Tomson, Miss Op- 
posite and a few other people. 

With his hummingbird pencil deftly and delicately flying 
from one point to another, Frederick demonstrated his abso- 
lute innocence and the recklessness of my wife: while he was 
in the act of avoiding the dog, she had slipped on the freshly 
watered asphalt and plunged forward whereas she should 
have flung herself not forward but backward (Fred showed 
how’ by a jerk of his padded shoulder) . I said it was certainly 
not his fault, and the inquest upheld my view. 

Breathing violently through jet-black tense nostrils, he shook 
his head and my hand; then, with an air of perfect savoir vri-re 
and gentlemanly generosity, he offered to pay the funeral- 
home expenses. He expected me to refuse his offer. With a 
drunken sob of gratitude I accepted it. This took him aback. 
Slowly, incredulously, he repeated what he had said. 1 thanked 
him again, even more profusely than before. 

In result of that weird interview, the numbness of my soul 
was for a moment resolved. And no wonder! I bad actually 
seen the agent of fate. I had palpated the very ffesh of fate— 
and its padded shoulder. A brilliant and monstrous mutation 
had suddenly taken place, and here was the instrument. Wilh- 

95 



in the intricacies of the pattern (hurrying housewife, slippery 
pai/ement, a pest of a dog, steep grade, big caT, baboon at its 
wheel), I could dimly distinguish my own vile contribution. 
Had I not been such a fool — or such an intuitive genius — to 
preserve that journal, fluids produced by vindictive anger and 
hot. shame would not have blinded Charlotte in her dash to 
the mailbox. But even had they blinded her, still nothing 
might have happened, had not precise fete, that synchronizing 
phantom, mixed within its alembic the car and the dog and 
the sun and the shade and the wet and the weak and the 
strong and' the stone. Adieu, Marlene! Fat fate’s formal hand- 
shake (as reproduced by Beale before leaving the room) 
brought me out of my torpor; and I wept. Ladies and gentle- 
men of the jury — -I wept 


24 


The elms and the poplars were turning their raffled backs 
to a sudden onslaught of wind, and a black thunderhead 
loomed above Ramsdale’s white church tower when I looked 
around me for the last time. For unknown adventures I was 
leaving the livid house where I had rented a room only ten 
weeks before. The shades — thrifty, practical bamboo shades — 
were already down. On porches or in the house their rich tex- 
tures lend modem drama. The house of heaven must seem 
pretty bare after that A raindrop fell on my knuckles. I went 
back into the house for something or other while John was 
putting my bags into the car, and then a funny thing hap- 
pened. I do not know if in these tragic notes I have sufficiently 
stressed.the peculiar “sending” effect that the writer's good 
looks — pseudo-Celtic, attractively simiarf, boyishly manly — 
had on women of every age and environment. . Of course, 
such announcements made in the first person may sound 
ridiculous. But every once in a while I have to remind the 
reader of my appearance much as a professional novelist, who 
has given a character of his some mannerism or a dog, has 
to go on producing that dog or that mannerism every time 
the character crops up in the course of the book. There may 
be more to it in the present case. My gloomy good looks 
should be kept in the mind’s eye if my story is to be properly 

96 


understood. Pubescent Lo swooned to Humbert’s charm as 
she did to hiccuppy music; adult Lotte loved me with a ma- 
ture, possessive passion that I now deplore and respect more 
than I care to say. Jean Farlow who was thirty-one and ab- 
solutely neurotic, had also apparently developed a strong 
liking for me. She was handsome in a carved-Indian sort of 
way, with a burnt sienna complexion. Her lips were like large 
crimson polyps, and when she emitted her special barking 
laugh, she showed large dull teeth and pale gums. 

She was very tall, wore either slacks with sandals or billow- 
ing skirts with ballet slippers, drank any strong liquor in any 
amount, had had two miscarriages, wrote stories about animals, 
painted, as the reader knows, lakescapes, was already nursing 
the cancer that was to kill her at thirty-three, and was hope- 
lessly unattractive to me. Judge then of my alarm when a 
few seconds before I left (she and I stood in the hallway) 
Jean, with her always trembling fingers, took 'me by the 
temples, and, tears in her bright blue eyes, attempted, unsuc- 
cessfully, to glue herself to my bps. 

“Take care of yourself,” she said, "kiss your daughter for 
me." 

A clap of thunder reverberated throughout the house, and 
she added: 

“Perhaps, somewhere, some day, at a less miserable time, 
we may see each other again” (Jean, whatever, wherever you 
are, in minus time-space or plus soul-time, forgive me all this, 
parenthesis included). 

And presently I was shaking hands with both of them in 
the street, the sloping street, and everything was whirling and 
flying before the approaching white deluge, and a truck with a 
mattress from Philadelphia was confidently rolling down to 
an empty house, and dust was running and writhing over the 
exact slab of stone where Charlotte, when they lifted the lap- 
robe for me, had been revealed, curled up, her eyes intact, 
their black lashes still wet, matted, like yours, Lolita. 


25 


Os-r Micnr surrosx that with all blocks removed and 
P«t of delirious and unlimited delights before me, I 

97 


a pros- 
would 


have mentally sunk back, heaving a sigh of delicious relief. Eh 
bien, pas <Ju tout l Instead of basking in the beams of smiling 
Chance, I was obsessed by all sorts of purely ethical doubts and 
fears. For instance: might it not surprise people that Lo was 
so consistently debarred from attending festive and funeral 
functions in her immediate family? Yon remember~we had 
not had her at our wedding. Or another thing: granted it was 
the long hairy arm of Coincidence that had reached out to 
remove an innocent woman, might Coincidence not ignore 
in a heathen moment.what its twin limb had done and hand 
Lo a premature note of commiseration? True, the accident 
had been' reported only by the Ramsdale Journal — not by the 
Parkington Recorder or the Climax Herald, Camp Q. being 
in another state, and local deaths' having no federal news 
interest; but I could not help fancying that somehow Dolly 
Haze had been informed already, and that at the very time 
I was on my way to fetch her, she was being driven to Rams- 
dale by friends unknown to me. Still more disquieting than 
all these conjectures and worries, was the feet that Humbert 
Humbert, a brand-new American citizen of obscure European 
origin, had taken no steps toward becoming the legal guardian 
of his dead wife's daughter (twelve years and seven months 
old) . Would I ever dare take those steps? I could not repress 
a shiver whenever I imagined my nudity hemmed in by mys- 
terious statutes in the merciless glare of the Common Law. 

My scheme was a marvel of primitive art: I would whizz 
over to Camp Q., tell Lolita her mother was about to undergo 
a major operation at an invented hospital, and then keep 
moving with my sleepy nymphet from inn to inn while her 
mother got better and better and finally died. But as I traveled 
camp ward my anxiety grew. I could not bear to think I might 
not find Lolita there — or find, instead, another, scared, Lolita 
clamoring for some family friend: not the Farlows, thank 
God-— she hardly knew them — but might there not be other 
people I had not reckoned with? Finally, I decided to make 
the long-distance call I had simulated so well a few days be- 
fore. It was raining hard when I pulled up in a muddy suburb 
of Parkington, just before the Fork, one prong of which by- 
passed the city and led to the highway which crossed the hills 
to Lake Climax and Camp Q. I flipped off the ignition and 
for quite a minute sat in the car bracing myself for that tele- 
phone call, and staring at the rain, at the inundated sidewalk, 
at a hydrant: a hideous thing, really, painted a thick silver and 

98 



red, extending the red stamps of its arms to be varnished by 
the rain which like stylized blood dripped upon its argent 
chains. No wonder that stopping beside those nightmare 
cripples is taboo. I drove np to a gasoline station. A surprise 
awaited me when at last the coins had satisfactorily clanked 
down and a voice was allowed to answer mine. 

Holmes, the camp mistress, informed me that Dolly had 
gone Monday (this was Wednesday) on a hike in the hills 
with her group and was expected to return rather late today. 
Would I care to come tomorrow, and what was exactly — 
Without going into details, I said that her mother was hos- 
pitalized, that the situation was grave, that the child should 
not be told it was grave and that she should be ready to leave 
with me tomorrow afternoon. The two voices parted in an ex- 
plosion of warmth and good will, and through some freak 
mechanical flaw all my coins came tumbling hack to me with 
a hitting-the-jackpot clatter that almost made me laugh de- 
spite the disappointment at having to postpone bliss. One 
wonders if this sudden discharge, this spasmodic refund, was 
not correlated somehow, in the mind of McFate, with my 
haring invented that little expedition before ever learning of 
it as I did now. 

What next? I proceeded to the business center of Parldng- 
ton and devoted the whole afternoon (the weather had 
cleared, the wet town was like silver-and-glass) to buying 
beautiful things for Lo. Goodness, what crazy purchases were 
prompted by the poignant predilection Humbert had in those 
days for check weaves, bright cottons, frills, puffed-out short 
sleeves, soft pleats, snug-fitting bodices and generously full 
skirts! Oh Lolita, you are my girl, as Vee was Poe’s and Bea 
Dante’s, and what little girl would not like to whirl in a 
circular skirt and scanties? Did I have something special in 
mind? coaxing voices asked me. Swimming suits? We have 
them in all shades. Dream pink, frosted aqua, glans mauve, 
tulip red, oolala black. What about playsuits? Slips? No slips. 
Lo and I loathed slips. 

One of my guides in these matters was an anthropometric 
entry made by her mother on Lo’s twelfth birthday (the reader 
remembers that Lnow-1 our-ChDd book). I had the feeling 
thst Charlotte, moved by obscure motives of envy and dislike, 
haa added an inch here, a pound there; but since the nvmphet 
had no doubt grown somewhat in the last seven months, I 

ought I could safely accept most of those January measure- 

99 


meats: hip girth, twenty-nine inches; thigh girth (just below 
the gluteal sulcus), seventeen; calf girth and neck circum- 
ference, eleven; chest circumference, twenty-seven; upper arm 
girth, eight; waist, twenty-three; stature, fifty-seven inches; 
weight, seventy-eight pounds; figure, linear, intelligence quo- 
tient, 121; vermiform appendix present, thank God. 

Apart from measurements, I could of course vis ualiz e Lolita 
with hallucxnational lucidity; and nursing as I did a tingle on 
my breastbone at the exact spot her silky top had come level 
once or twice with my heart; and feeling as I did her warm 
weight in my lap (so that, in a sense, I was always “with Lo- 
lita” as a woman is “with child”), I was not surprised to dis- 
cover later that my computation had been more or less correct 
Having moreover studied a midsummer sale book, it was with 
a very knowing air that I examined various pretty articles, 
sport shoes, sneakers, pumps of crushed kid for crushed kids. 
The painted girl in black who attended to all these poignant 
needs of mine turned parental scholarship and precise de- 
scription into commercial euphemisms, such as “petite.” An- 
other, much older woman, in a white dress, with a pancake 
make-up, seemed to be oddly impressed by my knowledge of 
junior fashions; perhaps I had a midget for mistress; so, when 
shown a skirt with two “cute” pockets in front, I intentionally 
put a naive male question and was rewarded by a smiling 
demonstration of the way the zipper worked in the back of 
the skirt. I had next great fun with all kinds of shorts and 
briefs — phantom little Lolitas dancing, falling, daisying all 
over the counter. We rounded up the deal with some prim 
cotton pajamas in popular butcher-boy style. Humbert, the 
popular butcher. 

There is a touch of the mythological and the enchanted in 
those large stores where according to ads a career girl can get a 
complete desk-to-date wardrobe, and where little sister can 
dream of the day when her wool jersey will make the boys in 
the back row of the classroom drool. Lifesize plastic figures of 
snubbed-nosed children with dun-colored, greenish, brown- 
dotted, faunish faces floated around me. I realized I was the 
only shopper in that rather eerie place where I moved about 
fish-like, in a glaucous aquarium. I sensed strange thoughts 
form in the minds of the languid ladies that escorted me from 
counter to counter, from rock ledge to seaweed, and the belts 
and the bracelets I chose seemed to fall from siren hands 
into transparent water. I bought an elegant valise, had my 

100 



purchases put into it, and repaired to the nearest hotel, well 
pleased with my day. 

Somehow, in connection with that quiet poetical afternoon 
of fastidious shopping, I recalled the hotel or inn with the 
seductive name of The Enchanted Hunters which Charlotte 
had happened to mention shortly before my liberation. With 
the help of a guidebook I located it in the secluded town of 
Briceland, a four-honr drive from Lo’s camp. I-conld have 
telephoned but fearing my voice might go out of control and 
lapse into coy croaks of broken English, I decided to send a 
wire ordering a room with twin beds for the next night. What 
a comic, clumsy, wavering Prince Charming I wasl How some 
of my readers will laugh at me when I tell them the trouble 
I had with the wording of my telegram! What should I put: 
Humbert and daughter? Humberg and small daughter? Hom- 
berg and immature girl? Homburg and child? The droll mis- 
take — the "g” at the end — which eventually came through 
may have been a telepathic echo of these hesitations of mine. 

And then, in the velvet of a summer night, my broodings 
over the philter I had with me! Oh miserly Hamburg! Was he 
not a very Enchanted Hunter as he deliberated with himself 
over his boxful of magic ammunition? To rout the monster 
of insomnia should he try himself one of those amethyst cap- 
sules? There were fort}’ of them, all told — forty nights with a 
frail little sleeper at my throbbing side; could I rob myself of 
one such night in order to sleep7 Certainly not: much too 
precious was each tiny plum, each microscopic planetarium 
with its live stardust. Oh', let me be mawkish for the noncel 
I am so tired of being cynical. 


26 

This r>An.Y utladache in the opaque air of this tombal jail is 
disturbing, but I must persevere. Have written more than a 
hundred pages and not got anywhere vet My calendar is get- 
bng confused. That must have been around August 1 5, 1947 
Dont think I can go on. Heart head— everything. Lolita" 
Loins, Lohta. Lehtn, Lolita, Lolita, Lolita, Lolita. Repeat till 
the page is full, printer. r ^ r 

101 


27 


Still in Pakkington. Finally, I did achieve an hour's slum- 
ber — from which I was aroused by gratuitous and horribly 
exhausting congress with a small hairy hermaphrodite, a total 
stranger. By then it was six in the morning, and it suddenly 
occurred to me it might be a good thing to arrive at the camp 
earlier than I had said. From Parldngton I had still a hundred 
miles to go, and there would be more than that to the Hazy 
Hills and Briceland. If I had said I would come for Dolly 
in the afternoon, it was only because my fancy insisted on 
merciful night falling as soon as possible upon my impatience. 
But now I foresaw all hinds of misunderstandings and was all 
a-jitter lest delay might' give her the opportunity of some idle 
telephone call to Ramsdale. However, when at 9.30 a.m. I 
attempted to start, I was confronted by a dead battery, and 
noon was nigh when at last I left Parldngton. 

I reached my destination around half past two; parted my 
car in a pine grove where a green-shirted, redheaded impish 
lad stood throwing horseshoes in sullen solitude; was laconi- 
cally directed by him to an office in a stucco cottage; in a dying 
state, had to endure for several minutes the inquisitive com- 
miseration of the camp mistress, a sluttish worn out female 
with rusty hair. Dolly she said was all packed and ready to go. 
She knew her mother was sick but not critically. Would Mr. 
Haze, I mean, Mr. Humbert, care to meet the camp counsel- 
lors? Or look at the cabins where the girls live? Each dedicated 
to a Disney creature? Or visit the Lodge? Or should Charlie 
be sent over to fetch her? The girls were just finishing fixing 
the Dining Room for a dance. (And perhaps afterwards she 
would say to somebody or other:’ “The poor guy looked like 
his own ghost.”) 

Let me retain for a moment that scene in all its trivial and 
fateful detail: hag Holmes writing out a receipt, scratching her 
head, pulling a drawer out of her desk, pouring change into my 
impatient palm, then neatly spreading a banknote over it with 
a bright “. . . and five!”; photographs of girl-children; some 
gaudy moth or butterfly, still alive, safely pinned to the wall 
(“nature study”) ; the foamed diploma of the camp's dietitian; 
my trembling hands; a card produced by efficient Holmes with 

102 


-V 



a report of Dolly Haze’s behavior for July ("fair to good; been 
on swimming and boating”); a sound of trees and birds, and 
my pounding heart ... I was standing with my back to the 
open door, and then I felt the blood rush to my head as I heard 
her respiration and voice behind me. She arrived dragging and 
bumping her heavy suitcase. "Hi!” she said, and stood still, 
looking at me with sly, glad eyes, her soft lips parted in a 
slightly foolish hut wonderfully endearing smile. 

She was thinner and taller, and for a second it seemed to 
me her face was less pretty than the mental imprint I bad 
cherished for more than a month: her cheeks looked hollowed 
and too much lentigo camouflaged her rosy rustic features; and 
that first impression (a very narrow human interval between 
two tiger heartbeats) carried the dear implication that all 
widower Humbert had to do, wanted to do, or would do, was 
to give this wan-looldng though sun-colored little orphan aux 
ycux battus (and even those plumbaceons umbrae under her 
eyes bore freckles) a sound education, a healthy and happy 
girlhood, a dean home, nice girl-friends of her age among 
whom (if the fates ddgned to repay me) I might find, per- 
haps, a pretty little magdfein for Herr Doktor Humbert alone. 
But “in a wink,” as the Germans say, the angelic line of con- 
duct was erased, and I overtook my prey (time moves ahead 
of our fancies!), and she was my Lolita again — in fact, more 
of my Lolita than ever. I let my hand rest on her warm auburn 
head and took up her bag. She was all rose and honey, dressed 
in her brightest gingham, with a pattern of little red apples, 
and her arms and legs were of a deep golden browni, with 
scratches like tiny dotted lines of coagulated rubies, and the 
ribbed cuffs of her white socks were turned down at the re- 
membered level, and because of her childish gait, or because 
I had memorized her as always wearing heelless shoes, her 
saddle oxfords looked somehow too large and too high-heeled 
for her. Good-bye, Camp Q., meny Camp Q. Good-bye, plain 
unwholesome food, good-bye Charite'boy. In the hot car she 
settled down beside me, slapped a prompt fly on ber lovely 
knee; then, her mouth working violently on a piece of chew- 
ing gum, she rapidly cranked down the window on her side 
and settled bad: again. We sped through the striped and 
speckled forest 

“How’s mother?" she asked dutifully. 

I said the doctors did not quite know vet what the trouble 
was. Anyway, something abdominal. Abominable? No, abdom- 

103 



inal. We would have to hang around for a while. The hospital 
was in the country, near the gay town of Lepingville, where 
a great poet had resided in the early nineteenth century and 
where we would talce in all the shows. She thought it a peachy 
idea and wondered if we could make Lepingville before nine 
P.M. 

“We should be at Briceland by dinner tune/’ I said, “and 
tomorrow we’ll visit Lepingville. How was the hike? Did you 
have a marvelous time at the camp?” 

“Uh-huh.” 

“Sorry to leave?” 

“Un-un.” 

“Talk, Lo — don’t grunt. Tell me something.” 

'What thing, Dad?” (she let the word expand with ironic 
deliberation). 

“Any old thing.” 

“Okay, if I call you that?” (eyes slit at the road). 

"Quite.” 

“It's a sketch, you know. When did you fall for my mum- 
my?” 

“Some day, Lo, you will understand many emotions and 
situations, such as for example the harmony, the beauty of 
spiritual relationship.” 

“Bah!” said the cynical nymphet 

Shallow lull in the dialogue, filled with some landscape. 

“Look, Lo, at all those cows on that hillside.” 

“I think I’ll vomit if I look at a cow again.” 

“You know, I missed you terribly, Lo.” 

“I did not. Fact I’ve been revoltingly unfaithful to you, but 
- it does not matter one bit, because you’ve stopped caring for 
me, anyway. You drive much faster than my mummy, mister.” 

I slowed down from a blind seventy to a purblind fifty. 

‘Why do you think I have ceased caring for you, Lo?” 

‘Well, you haven’t kissed me yet, have you?” 

Inly dying, inly, moaning, I glimpsed a reasonably wide 
shoulder of road ahead, and bumped and wobbled into the 
weeds. Remember she is only a child, remember she is only — 

Hardly had the car come to a standstill than Lolita positively 
flowed into my arms. Not daring let myself go — not even 
daring let myself realize that this (sweet wetness and trem- 
bling fire) was the beginning of the ineffable life which, ably 
assisted by fate, I had finally willed into being — not daring 
really kiss her, I touched her hot, opening lips with the utmost 

104 


piety, tiny sips, nothing salacious; but she, with an impatient 
wriggle, pressed her mouth to mine so hard that I felt her big 
front teeth and shared in the peppermint taste of her saliva. 
I knew, of course, it was but an innocent game on her part, 
a bit of backfisch foolery in imitation of some simulacrum 
of fake romance, and since (as the psychotherapist, as well as 
the rapist, will tell you} the limits and rules of such girlish 
games are fluid, or at least too childishly subtle for the senior 
partner to grasp — I was dreadfully afraid I might go too far 
and cause her to start back in revulsion and terror. And, as 
above all I was agonizingly anxious to smuggle ber into the 
hermetic seclusion of The Enchanted Hunters, and we had 
still eighty miles to go, blessed intuition broke our embrace — 
a split second before a highway patrol car drew up alongside. 

Florid and beetlebrowed, its driver stared at me: 

“Happen to see a blue sedan, same make as yours, pass you 
before the junction?” 

“Why, no.” 

‘We didn't,” said Lo, eagerly leaning across me, her in- 
nocent hand on my legs, “but are you sure it was blue, 
because — " 

The cop (what shadow of us was he afteT?) gave the little 
colleen his best smile and went into a U-turn. 

We drove on. 

“The fruitheadl” remarked Lo. "He should have nabbed 
you." 

“Why me for heaven's sake?” 

‘Well, the speed in this bum state is fifty, and — No, don’t 
slow down, you, dull bulb. He’s gone now.” 

‘We have still quite a stretch,” I said, “and I want to get 
there before dark. So be a good girl.” 

“Bad, bad gill,” said Lo comfortably. "Juvenile deliekwent, 
but frank and fetching. That light was red. I’ve never seen 
such driving.” 

We rolled silently through a silent townlct. 

“Say, wouldn't Mother be absolutely mad if sbe found out 
we were lovers?” 

“Good Lord, Lo, let us not talk that way.” 

“But we arc lovers, aren't we?” 

Not that I know of. I think we arc going to have some 
mere rain. Don’t you want to tell me of those little pranks of 
yours in camp?” 

“Lon talk like a book. Dad.” 

IG> 


"What have you been up to? I insist you tell me.” 

‘Are you easily shocked?” 

"No. Go on.” 

4< Let us turn into a secluded lane and I'll tell you.” 

Lo, I must seriously ask you not to play the fool. Well?" 

<r Well — I joined in all the activities that were offered.” 

“Ensuite?” 

“Ansooit, I was taught to live happily and richly with 
others and to develop a wholesome personality. Be a cake, 
in fact.” 

“Yes. I saw something of the sort in the booklet.” 

“We loved the sings around the fire in the big stone fire- 
place or under the darned stars, where every girl merged her 
own spirit of happiness with the voice of the group.” 

“Your memory is excellent, Lo, but I must trouble you to 
leave out the swear words. Anything else?” 

“The Girl Scout's motto,” said Lo rhapsodically, “is also 
mine. I fill my life with worthwhile deeds such as — well, never 
mind what. My duty is — to be useful: I am a friend to male 
animals. I obey orders. I am cheerful. That was another 
police car. I am thrifty and I am absolutely filthy in thought, 
word and deed.” 

“Now I do hope that’s ah, you witty child.” 

“Yep. That’s all. No — wait a sec. We baked in a reflector 
oven. Isn't that terrific?” 

“Well, that’s better.” 

'We washed zillions of dishes. ‘Zillions’ you know is school- 
marm’s slang for many-many-many-many. Oh yes, last but 
not least; as Mother says — Now let me see — what was it? 
I know: We made shadowgraphs. Gee, what fun.” 

“C’est bien tout?” 

“C'est. Except for one little thing, something I simply can't 
tell you without blushing ah over.” 

“Will you tell it me later?” 

“If we sit in the dark and you let me whisper, I wOl. Do 
you sleep in your old room or in a heap with Mother? 

“Old room. Your mother may have to undergo a very 
serious operation, Lo.” 

“Stop at that candy bar, will yon,” said Lo. 

Sitting on a high stool, a band of sunlight crossing her bare 
brown forearm, Lolita was served an elaborate ice-cream con- 
coction topped with synthetic syrup. It was erected and 
brought her by a pimply brute of a boy in a greasy bow-tie 

106 


v.-ho eyed my fragile child in her thin cotton frock with carnal 
deliberation. My impatience to reach Briceland and The En- 
chanted Hunters was becoming more than I could endure. 
Fortunately she dispatched the stuff with her usual alacrity. 
“How much cash do you have?" I asked. 

“Not a cent,” she said sadly, lifting her eyebrows, showing 
me the empty inside of her money purse. 

“This is a matter that will be mended in due time," I re- 
joined archly. “Are you coming?” 

“Say, I wonder if they' have a washroom.” 

“You are not going there,” I said firmly. “It is sure to be a 
sile place. Do come on.” 

She was on the whole an obedient little girl and I kissed 
her in the neck when we got back into the car. 

“Don’t do that,” she said looking at me with unfeigned 
surprise. “Don’t drool on me. You dirty’ man.” 

She rubbed the spot against her raised shoulder. 

“Sorry,” I murmured. “I’m rather fond of yon, that’s all.” 
We drove under a gloomy sky, up a winding road, then 
down again. 

“Well, I’m also sort of fond of yon,” said Lolita in a delayed 
soft voice, with a sort of sigh, and sort of settled closer to me. 
(Oh, my Lolita, we' shall never get there!) 

Dusk was beginning to saturate pretty little Briceland, its 
phony colonial architecture, curiosity shops and imported 
shade trees, when we drove through the weakly lighted streets 
in search of The Enchanted Hunters. The air, despite a steady 
drizzle beading it, was warm and green, and a queue of people, 
mainly children and old men, had already- formed before the 
box office of a movie house, dripping with jewel-fires. 

“Oh, I want to see that picture. Let’s go right after dinner. 
Oh, let’s!” 

“We might,” chanted Humbert — knowing perfectly well, 
tbe sly tumescent devil, that by nine, when his show began, 
she would be dead in his arms. 

“Easy!" cried Lo, lurching forward, as an accursed truck 
in front of us, its backside carbuncles pulsating, stopped at a 
crossing. 

If we did not get to the hotel soon, immediatclv, miracu- 
lously. in the very next block. 1 felt I would lose all control 
over the Haze jalopy with its ineffectual wipers and whimsical 
t-.Lcs; but the passers-by I applied to for directions were 
fctlicr strangers themselves or asked with a frown "Enchanted 

107 



what? ’ as if I were a madman; or else they went into such 
complicated explanations, with geometrical gestures, geograph- 
ical generalities and strictly local clues (. . . then bear south 
after you hit the courthouse . . .) that I could not help 
losing my way in the maze of their well-meaning gibberish. 
Lo, whose lovely prismatic entrails had already digested the 
sweetmeat, was looking forward to a big meal and had begun 
to fidget. As to me, although I had long become used to a 
kind of secondary fate (McFate's inept secretary, so to speak) 
pettily interfering with the boss's generous magnificent plan 
— to grind and grope through the avenues of Briceland was 
perhaps the most exasperating ordeal I had yet faced. In 
later months I could laugh at my inexperience when recalling 
the obstinate boyish way in which I had concentrated uporr 
that particular inn with its fancy name; for all along our route 
countless motor courts proclaimed their vacancy in neon 
lights, ready to accommodate salesmen, escaped convicts, im- 
potents, family groups, as well as the most corrupt and vig- 
orous couples. Ah, gentle drivers gliding through summer's 
black nights, what frolics, what twists of lust, you might see 
from your impeccable highways if Kumfy Kabins were sud- 
denly drained of their pigments and became as transparent as 
boxes of glassl 

The miracle I hankered for did happen after all. A man 
and a girl, more or less conjoined in a dark car under dripping 
trees, told us we were in the heart of The Park, but had only 
to turn left at the next traffic light and there we would be. 
We did not see any next traffic light — in fact. The Park was as 
black as the sins it concealed — but soon after falling under 
the smooth spell of a nicely graded curve, the travelers be- 
came aware of a diamond glow through the mist, then a gleam 
of lakewater appeared — and there it was, marvelously and in- 
exorably, under spectral trees, at the top of a graveled drive— 
the pale palace of The Enchanted Hunters. 

A row of parked cars, like pigs at a trough, seemed at first 
sight to forbid access; -but then, by magic, a formidable con- 
vertible, resplendent, rubous in the lighted rain, came into 
motion — was energetically backed out by a broad-shouldered 
driver — and we gratefully slipped into the gap it had left. I 
immediately regretted my haste for I noticed that my pre- 
decessor had now taken advantage of a garage-like shelter 
nearby where there was ample space for another car; but I was 
too impatient to follow his example. 

108 



“Wcrwl Looks swank,” remarked my vulgar darling squint- 
ing at the stucco as she crept out into the audible drizzle and 
with a childish hand tweaked loose the frock-fold that had 
stuck in the peach-deft — to quote Robert Browning. Under 
the arch'ghts enlarged replicas of chestnut leaves plunged and 
played on white pillars. 1 unlocked the trunk compartment 
A hunchbacked and hoary Negro in a uniform of sorts took 
our bags and wheeled them slowly into the lobby. It was 
fall of old ladies and clerg ym en. Lolita sank down on her 
haunches to caress a pale-faced, blue-freckled, black-eared 
cocker spaniel swooning on the floral carpet under her hand — 
as who would not, my heart — while I cleared my throat 
through the throng to the desk. There a bald porcine old man 
— everybody was old in that old hotel — examined my features 
with a polite smile, then leisurely produced my (garbled) 
telegram, wrestled with some dark doubts, turned his head 
to look at the clock, and finally said he was very sorry, he 
had held the room with the twin beds till half past six, and 
now it was gone. A religious convention, he said, had clashed 
with a flower show in Briceland, and — “The name,” I said 
coldly, “is not Humberg and not Humbug, but Herbert, I 
mean Humbert, and any room will do, just put in a cot for my 
little daughter. She is teu and very tired.” 

The pink old fellow peered good-naturedly at Lo — stfll 
squatting, listening in profile, lips parted, to what the dog’s 
mistress, an ancient lady swathed in violet veils, was telling 
her from the depths of a cretonne easy chair. 

Whatever doubts the obscene fellow had, they were dis- 
pelled by that blossom-like vision. He said, he might still hare 
a room, had one in fact — with a double bed. As to the cot — 

“Mr. Potts, do we have any cots left?” Potts, also pink and 
bald, with white hairs growing out of his ears and other holes, 
would sec what could be done. He came and spoke while I 
unscrewed my fountain pen. Impatient Humbertl 

"Our double beds arc really triple,” Potts cozily said tucking 
me and my lad in. “One crowded night we had three ladies 
and a child like yours sleep together. I believe one of the ladies 
was a disguised man [my static]. However— would there be a 
rparc cot in 19, Mr, Swine?” 

"I think it went to the Swoons,” said Swine, the initial old- 
down. 


"Well manage somehow,” I 
htcr — but even then, I suppose, 


109 


said. ,c My wife may join us 
, well manage.” 



The two pink pigs were now among my best friends. In the 
slow dear hand of crime I wrote:. Dr. Edgar H. Humbert and 
daughter, 342 Lawn Street, Ramsdale. A key (3421) was half- 
shown to me (magician showing object he is about to palm) — 
and handed over to Uncle Tom. Lo, leaving the dog as she 
would leave me some day, rose from her haunches; a raindrop 
fell on Charlotte's grave; a handsome young Negress slipped 
open the elevator door, and the doomed child went in fol- 
lowed by her throat-clearing father and crayfish Tom with the 
bags. 

Parody of a hotel corridor. Parody of silence and death. 

"Say, it's our house number," said cheerful Lo. ' 

There was a double bed, a mirror, a double bed in the mir- 
ror, a closet door with mirror, a bathroom door ditto, a blue- 
dark window, a reflected bed there, the same in the closet 
mirror, two chairs, a glass-topped table, two bedtables, a dou- 
ble bed: a big panel bed, to be exact, with a Tuscan rose 
chenille spread, and two frilled, pink-shaded nightlamps, left 
and right. 

I was tempted to place a five-dollar bill in that sepia palm, 
but thought the largesse might be misconstrued, so I placed a 
quarter. Added another. He withdrew. Click. EnSn sevls. 

"Axe we to sleep in one room?” said Lo, her features work- 
ing in that dynamic way they did — not cross or disgusted 
(though plain on the brink of it) but just dynamic — when 
she wanted to load a question with violent significance. 

“I've asked them to put in a cob Which I’ll use if you like." 

“You are crazy," said Lo. 

“Why, my darling?” 

"Because, my dahrling, when dahrling Mother finds out 
she'll divorce you and strangle me.” 

Just dynamic. Not really taking the matter too seriously. 

“Now look here," I said, sitting down, while she stood, a 
few feet from me, and stared at herself contentedly, not un- 
pleasantly surprised at her own appearance, filling with her 
own rosy sunshine the surprised and pleased closet-door mir- 
ror. _ . . 

“Look here, Lo. Let's settle this once for all. For all practical 
purposes I am your father. I have a feeling of great tenderness 
for you. In your mother’s absence I am responsible for your 
welfare. We are not rich, and while we travel, we shall be 
obliged — we shall be thrown a good deal together. Two people 
sharing one room, inevitably enter into a kind — how shall I 
say — a kind — ” 


110 


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From the bathroom, where it took me quite a time to shift 
back into normal gear for a humdrum purpose, I heard, stand- 
ing, drumming, retaining my breath, my Lolita’s “oo’s” and 
“gee’s” of girlish delight 

She had used the soap only because' it was sample soap. 

“Well, come on, my dear, if you are as hungry as I am.” 

And so to the elevator, daughter swinging her old white 
purse, father walking in front (notabene: never behind, she is 
not a lady). As we stood (now side by side) waiting to be 
taken down, she threw back her head, yawned without re- 
straint and shook her curls. 

'When did they make you get up at that camp?” 

“Half-past — ” she stifled another yawn — “six” — yawn in 
full with a shiver of all her frame. “Half-past,” she repeated, 
her throat filling up again. 

The dining room met us with a smell of fried fat and a 
faded smile. It was a spacious and pretentious place with 
maudlin murals depicting enchanted hunters in various pos- 
tures and states of enchantment amid a medley of pallid ani- 
mals, dryads and trees. A few scattered old ladies, two clergy- 
men, and a man in a sports coat were finishing their meals in 
silence. The dining room closed at nine, and the green-clad, 
poker-faced serving girls were, happily, in a desperate hurry 
to get rid of us. 

“Does not he look exactly, but exactly, like Quilty?” said 
Lo in a soft voice, her sharp brown elbow not pointing, but 
visibly burning to point, at the lone diner in the loud checks, 
in the for comer of the room. 

“Like our fat Ramsdale dentist?” 

Lo arrested the mouthful of water she had just taken, and 
put down her dancing glass. 

“Course not,” she said with a splutter of mirth. “I meant 
the writer fellow in the Dromes ad,” 

Oh, Famel Oh, Femina! 

When the dessert was plunked down — a huge wedge of 
cherry pie for the young lady and vanilla ice cream for her 
protector, most of which she expeditiously added to her pie 
— I produced a small vial containing Papa’s Purple Fills. As I 
look back at those seasick murals, at that strange and mon- 
strous moment, I can only explain my behavior then by the 
mechanism of that dream vacuum wherein revolves a de- 
ranged mind; but at the time, it all seemed quite simple 
and inevitable to me. I glanced around, satisfied myself that 

112 


the last diner had left, removed the stopper, and with the 
utmost deliberation tipped the philter into my palm. I had 
carefully rehearsed before a mirror the gesture of clapping my 
empty hand to my open mouth and swallowing a (fictitious) 
pffl. As I expected, she pounced upon the vial with its plump, 
beautifully colored capsules loaded with Beauty’s Sleep. 

"Bluei” she exclaimed. “Violet blue. What are they made 
of?" 

"Summer sides.’’ I said, "and plums and figs, and the grape- 
blood of emperors.” 

"No, seriously — please." 

"Oh, just Purpills. Vitamin X. Makes one strong as an ox 
or an ax. Want to try' one?” 

Lolita stretched out her hand, nodding vigorously. 

I had hoped the drug would wort fast. It certainly did. She 
had had a long long day, she had gone rowing in the morning 
with Barbara whose sister was Waterfront Director, as the 
adorable accessible nymphet now started to tell me in between 
suppressed palate-humping yawns, growing in volume — oh, 
how fast the magic potion worked! — and had been active in 
other ways too. The mode that had vaguely loomed in her mind 
was, of course, by the time we watertreaded out of the dining 
room, forgotten. As we stood in the elevator, she leaned against 
me, faintly smiling — wouldn’t you like me to tell you? — half 
closing her dark-lidded eyes. "Sleepy, huh?” said Uncle Tom 
who was bringing up the quiet Franco-Irish gentleman and his 
daughter as well as two withered women, experts in roses. They 
looked with sympathy at my frail, tanned, tottering, dazed 
roscdarling. I had almost to carry her into out room. There, 
she sat down on the edge of the bed, swaying a little, speaking 
in dove-dull, long-drawn tones. 

"If T tell you — if I tell you, will you promise [sleepy, so 
sleepy — head lolling, eyes going out), promise you won’t make 
complaints?” 

"Later, Lo. Now go to bed. IT1 leave sou here, and you go to 
bed. Give you ten minutes.” 

"Oh, I’ve been such a disgusting girl,” she went on, shaking 
htr hair, removing with slow fingers a velvet hair ribbon. 
"Lcmmc tell you — ” 

‘Tomorrow, Lo. Go to bed, go to bed — for goodness, sake, 
to bed.” 

I pocketed the key and walked downstairs. 


113 



Gentlewomen of the jetky! Bear with met Allow me to take 
just a tiny bit of your precious time! So this was le grand mo- 
ment. I had left my Lolita still sitting on the edge of the 
abysmal bed, drowsily raising her foot, fumbling at the shoe- 
laces, and showing as she did so the nether side of her thigh 
up to the crotch of her panties — she had always been singularly 
absent-minded, or shameless, or both, in matters of legshow. 
This, then, was the hermetic vision of her which I had locked 
in— after satisfying myself that the door ’ carried no inside 
bolt- The key, with its numbered dangler of carved wood, be- 
came forthwith the weighty sesame to a rapturous and formida- 
ble future. .It was mine, it was part of my hot hairy fist In a 
few minutes — say, twenty, say half-an-hour, siche r ist sichec 
as my uncle Gustave used to say — I would let myself into that 
“342” and find my nympheb my beauty and bride, emprisoned 
in her crystal sleep. Jurorsl If my happiness could have talked, 
it would have filled that genteel hotel with a deafening roar. 
And my only regret today is that I did not quietly deposit 
key “342” at the office, and leave the town, the country, the 
continent, the hemisphere, — indeed, the globe — that very 
same night 

Let me explain. I was not- unduly disturbed by her self-ac- 
cusatory innuendoes. I was still firmly resolved to pursue my 
policy of sparing her purity by operating only in the stealth of 
night, only upon a completely anesthetized little nude. Re- 
straint and reverence were still my motto — even if that “puri- 
ty” (incidentally, thoroughly debunked by modem science) 
had been slightly damaged through some juvenile erotic ex- 
perienee, no doubt homosexual, at that accursed camp of hers. 
Of course, in my old-fashioned, old-world way, I, Jean-Jacques 
Humbert, had taken for granted, when I first met her, that 
she was as unravished as the stereotypical notion of normal 
child” had been since the lamented end of the Ancient World 
b.c. and its fascinating practices. We are not surrounded in 
our enlighted era by little slave flowers that can be casually 
plucked between business and bath as they used to be in the 
days of the Romans; and we do not, as dignified Orientals did 
in still more luxurious times, use tiny entertainers fore and 
aft between the mutton and the rose sherbet The whole 

114 


point is that the old link between the adult world and the 
child world has been completely severed nowadays by new 
customs and new laws. Despite my having dabbled in psy- 
chiatry and social work, I really knew very little about chil- 
dren. After all, Lolita was only twelve, and no matter what 
concessions I made to time and place — even bearing in mind 
the crude behavior of American schoolchildren — I still was 
under the impression that whatever went on among those 
brash brats, went on at a later age, and in a different environ- 
ment. Therefore (to retrieve the thread of this explanation) 
the moralist in me by-passed the issue by clinging to conven- 
tional notions of what twelve-year-old girls should be. The 
child therapist in me (a fake, as most of them are — but no 
matter) regurgitated neo-Freudian hash and conjured up a 
dreaming and exaggerating Dolly in the "latency’' period of 
girlhood. Finally, the sensualist in roe (a great and insane 
monster) had no objection to some depravity in his prey. But 
somewhere behind the raging bliss, bewildered shadows con- 
ferred — and not to have heeded them, this is what I regret! 
Human beings, attcndl I should have understood that Lolita 
had already proved to be something quite different from inno- 
cent Annabel, and that the nymphean evil breathing through 
every pore of the fey child that I had prepared for my secret 
delectation, would make the secrecy impossible, and the de- 
lectation lethal. I should have known (by the signs made to 
me by something in Lolita — the real child Lolita or some 
haggard angel behind her back) that nothing but pain and 
horror would result from the expected rapture. Oh, winged 
gentlemen of the jury! 

And she was mine, she was mine, the key was in my fist, my 
fist was in my pocket, she was mine. In the course of the evo- 
cations and schemes to which I had dedicated so many in- 
somnias, I had gradually eliminated all the superfluous blur, 
and by stacking level upon level of translucent vision, had 
evolved a final picture. Naked, except for one sock and her 
charm bracelet, spread-eagled on the bed where my philter 
had felled hd — so I forcglimpsed her; a velvet hair ribbon 
was still clutched in her hand; her honey-brown body, with 
the white negative image of n rudimentary swimsuit patterned 
against her tan, presented to me its pale breastbuds; in the 
row lamplight, a little pubic fio«s glistened on its plump 
hillock. The cold key with its warm w-ooden addendum was 
in my pocket. 

I wandered through various public rooms, glcrv below, 

115 



gloom above: for the look of Inst always is gloomy; lust is 
never quite sure — even when the velvety victim is locked up 
in one’s dungeon — that some rival devil or influential god 
may still not abolish one’s prepared triumph. In common 
parlance, I needed a drink; but there was no barroom in that 
venerable place full of perspiring phflistines and period objects. 

I drifted to the Men’s Room. There, a person in clerical 
black — a “hearty party” comme on dit — checking with the 
assistance of Vienna, if it was still there, inquired of me how 
- 1 had liked Dr. Boyd's talk, and looked puzzled when I (King 
Sigmund the Second) said Boyd was quite a boy. Upon which, 
I neatly chucked the tissue paper I had been wiping my sensi- 
tive finger tips with into the receptacle provided for it, and 
sallied lobbyward. Comfortably resting my elbows on the 
counter, I asked Mr. Potts was he quite sure my wife had 
not telephoned, and what about that cot? He answered she 
had not (she was dead, of course) and the cot would he in- 
stalled tomorrow if we decided to stay on. From a big crowded 
place called The Hunters’ Hall came a sound of many voices 
discussing horticulture or eternity. Another room, called The 
Raspberry Room, all bathed in light, with bright little tables 
and a large one with “refreshments,” was still empty exrept 
for a hostess (that type of worn woman with a glassy stnfle 
and Charlotte's manner of speaking); she floated up to me 
to ask if I was Mr. Braddock, because if so, Miss Beard had 
been looking for me. “What a name for a woman,” I said 
and strolled away. 

In and out of my heart flowed my rainbow blood. I would 
give her till half-past-nine. Going back to the lobby, I found 
there a change: a number of people in floral dresses or black 
cloth had formed little groups here and there, and some elfish 
chance offered me the sight of a delightful child of Lolita’s age, 
in Lolita’s type of frock, but pure white, and there was a white 
ribbon in her black hair. She was not pretty, but she was a 
nymphet, and hex ivory pale legs and lily neck formed for one 
memorable moment a most pleasurable antiphony (in terms of 
spinal music) to my desire for Lolita, brown and pink, flushed 
and fouled. The pale child noticed my gaze (which was really 
quite casual and debonair), and being ridiculously self-con- 
scious, lost countenance completely, rolling her eyes and put- 
ting the back of her hand to her cheek, and pulling at the hem 
of her skirt, and finally turning her thin mobile shoulder blades 
to me in specious chat with her cow-like mother. 

116 


I left the loud lobby and stood outside, on the white steps, 
looking at the hundreds of powdered bugs wheeling around 
the lamps in the soggy black night, full of ripple and stir. AH 
I would do— all I would dare to do— would amount to such a 
trifle ... 

Suddenly I was aware that in the darkness next to me there 
was somebody sitting in a chair on the pillared porch. I could 
not really see him. but what gave him away was the rasp of a 
screwing oS, then a discreet gurgle, then the final note of a 
placid screwing on. I was about to move away when his voice 
addressed me: 

“Where the devil did you get her?” 

"I beg your pardon?” 

"I said: the weather is getting better." 

“Seems so.” 

“Who’s the lassie?” 

“My daughter." 

“You lie — she’s not” 

"1 beg your pardon?” 

“I said: July was hot Where's her mother?” 

“Dead.” 

“I see. Sorry. By the way, why don’t you two lunch with 
me tomorrow. That dreadful crowd will be gone by then.” 

‘We’ll be gone too. Good night” 

“Sorry. I’m pretty drunk. Good night That child of yours 
needs a lot of sleep. Sleep is a rose, as the Persians say. Smoke?” 

“Not now.” 

He struck a light, but because he was drunk, or because the 
wind was, the flame illumined not him but another person, a 
very old man, one of those permanent guests of old hotels — 
and his white rocker. Nobody said anything and the darkness 
returned to its initial place. Then I heard the old-rimer cough 
and deliver himself of some sepulchral mucus. 

I left the porch. At least half an hour in all had elapsed. I 
ought to have asked for a sip. The strain was beginning to tdl. 

If a violin string can ache, then I was that string. But it would ; 

have been unseemly to display any hurry. As I made my way 
through a constellation of fixed people in one comer of the ! 
lobby, there came a blinding flash — and beaming Dr. Brnddock, j 

two orchid-omamcntnlired matrons, the smalf rid in white, ! 
and presumable the bared teeth of Humbert Humbert sidling 
between the bridclikc Irssic and the enchanted cleric, were im- 
mortalized— insofar as the texture and print of small-town 

117 


newspapers can be deemed, immortal. A twittering group had 
gathered near the elevator. I again chose the stairs. 342 was 
near the fire escape. One could still — but the key was already 
in the - lock, and then I was in the room. 


29 

The door of the lighted bathroom stood ajar; in addition to 
that, a skeleton glow came through the Venetian blind from 
the outside arclights; these intercrossed rays penetrated the 
darkness of the bedroom and revealed the following situation. 

Clothed in one of her old nightgowns, my Lolita lay on her 
side with her back to me, in the middle of the bed. Her lightly 
veiled body and bare limbs formed a Z. She had put both 
pillows under her dark tousled head; a band of pale light 
crossed her top vertebrae. 

I seemed to have shed my clothes and slipped into pajamas 
with the kind of fantastic instantaneousness which, is implied 
when in a cinematographic scene the process of changing is 
cut; and I had already placed my knee on the edge of the bed 
when Lolita turned her head and stared at me through the 
striped shadows. 

Now this was something the intruder had not expected. The 
whole pill-spiel (a rather sordid affair, entre nous soit d it) had 
had for object a' fastness of sleep that a whole regiment would 
not have disturbed, and here she was staring at me, and thickly 
calling me “Barbara.” Barbara, , wearing my pajamas which 
were much too tight for her, remained poised motionless over 
the little sleep-talker. Softly, with a hopeless sigh, Dolly turned 
away, resuming her initial position. For at least two minutes 
I waited and strained on the brink, like that tailor with his 
homemade parachute forty years ago when about to jump from 
the Eiffel Tower. Her faint breathing had the rhythm of 
sleep. Finally I heaved myself onto my narrow margin of bed, 
stealthily pulled at the odds and ends of sheets piled up to 
the south of my stone-cold heels — and Lolita lifted her head 
and gaped at me. 

As I learned later from a helpful pharmaceutist, the purple 
pill did not even belong to the big and noble family of barbitu- 

118 


rates, and though it might have induced sleep in s neurotic 
who believed it to be a potent drug, it was too mOd a sedative 
to affect for any length of time a wary, albeit weary, nymphet 
Whether the Ramsdale doctor was a charlatan or a shrewd old 
rogue, does not, and did not, really matter. What mattered was 
that I had been deceived. When Lolita opened her eyes again, 
I realized that whether or not the drug might work later in the 
night, the security I had relied upon was a sham one. Slowly 
her head turned away and dropped onto her unfair amount of 
pillow. I lay quite still on my brink, peering at ber rumpled 
hair, at the glimmer of nymphet flesh, where half a haunch 
and half a shoulder dimly showed, and trying to gauge the 
depth of her sleep by the rate of her respiration. Some time 
passed, nothing changed, and I decided I might risk getting a 
little closer to that lovely and maddening glimmer; but hardly 
bad I moved into its warm purlieus than her breathing was 
suspended, and I had the odious feeling that little Dolores 
was wide awake and would explode in screams if I touched 
her with any part of my wretchedness. Please, reader: no mat- 
ter your exasperation with the tenderhearted, morbidly sensi- 
tive, infinitely circumspect hero of my book, do not skip these 
essential pages! Imagine me; I shall not exist if you do not 
imagine me; try to discern the doe in me, trembling in the 
forest of my own iniquity; let's even smile a little. After all, 
there is no harm in smiling. For instance (I almost wrote 
"frinsfance"), I had no place to rest my head, and a fit of 
heartburn (they call those fries 'Trench,” grand DieuI) was 
added to my discomfort 

She was again fast asleep, my nymphet, but still I did not 
dare to launch upon my enchanted voyage. La Peb'teDormcusc 
ou P Am ant Ridicule. Tomorrow I would stuff her with those 
earlier pills that had so thoroughly numbed her mummy. In 
the glove compartment — or in the Gladstone bag? Should I 
wait 3 solid hour and then creep up again? The science of 
nympholcpsv is a precise science. Actual contact would do it in 
one second fiat An interspace of a millimeter would do it in 
ten. Let us wait 

There is nothing louder than an American hotel; and. mind 
you. this was supposed to be a quiet cozy, old-fashioned, 
homey place — "gracious living” and all that stuff. The clatter 
of the elevator’s gate — some twenty surds northeast cf my 
bead but as dearly perceived as if it w-ere inside my left temple 
— alternated with the binging and booming of the machine’s 

119 



various evolutions and lasted well beyond midnight Every 
now and then, immediately east of my left ear (always as- 
suming I lay on my bach, not daring to direct my viler side 
toward the nebulous haunch of my bed-mate), the corridor 
would brim with cheerful, resonant and inept exclamations 
ending in a volley of good-nights. When that stopped, a toilet 
immediately north of my cerebellum took over. It was a 
manly, energetic, deep-throated toilet and it was used many 
times. Its gurgle and gush and long afterflow shook the wall 
behind me. Then someone in a southern direction was ex- 
travagantly sick, almost coughing out his life with his liquor, 
and his toilet descended like a veritable Niagara, immediately 
beyond our bathroom. And when finally all the waterfalls had 
stopped, and the enchanted hunters were sound asleep, the 
avenue under the window of my insomnia, to the west of my 
wake — a staid, eminently residential, dignified alley of huge 
trees — degenerated into the despicable haunt of gigantic tracks 
roaring through the wet and windy night. ' 

And less than six inches from me and my burning life, was 
nebulous Lolita! After a long stirless vigil, my tentacles moved 
towards her again, and this time the creak of the mattress did 
not awake her. I managed to bring my ravenous bulk so close 
to her that I felt the aura of her bare shoulder like a warm 
breath upon my cheek. And then, she sat up, gasped, muttered 
with insane rapidity something about boats, tugged at the 
sheets and lapsed back into her rich, dark, young unconscious- 
ness. As she tossed, within that abundant flow of sleep, recently 
auburn, at present lunar, her arm struck me across the face. 
For a second I held her. She freed herself from the shadow 
of my embrace — doing this not consciously, not violently, not 
with any personal distaste, but with the neutral plaintive 
murmur of a child demanding its natural rest. And again the 
situation remained the same: Lolita with her curved spine 
to Humbert, Humbert resting his head on his hand and burn- 
ing with desire and dyspepsia. 

The latter necessitated a trip to the bathroom for a draft of 
water which is the best medicine I know in my case, except 
perhaps milk wath radishes; and when I re-entered the strange 
pale-striped fastness where. Lolita’s old and new.' clothes re- 
clined in various attitudes of enchantment on pieces of furni- 
ture that seemed vaguely afloat, my impossible daughter sat up 
and in clear tones demanded a drink, too. She took the resilient 
and cold paper cup in her shadowy hand and gulped down its 

120 


contents gratefully, her long eyelashes pointing cupwatd, and 
then, with an infantile gesture that carried more charm than 
any carnal caress, little Lolita wiped her lips against my shoul- 
der. She fell bach on her pillow (I had subtracted mine while 
she dranh) and was instantly asleep again. 

I had not dared o6er her a second helping of the drug, and 
had not abandoned hope that the first might still consolidate 
her sleep. I started to move toward her, ready for any disap- 
pointment, knowing I had better wait but incapable of wait- 
ing. My pillow smelled of her hair. I moved toward my glim- 
mering darling, stopping or retreating every time I thought 
she stirred or was about to stir. A breeze from wonderland had 
begun to affect my thoughts, and now they seemed couched 
in italics, as if the surface reflecting them were wrinkled by the 
phantasm of that breeze. Time and again my consciousness 
folded the wrong way, my shuffling body entered the sphere 
of sleep, shuffled out again, and once or twice I caught myself 
drifting into a melancholy snore. Mists of tenderness enfolded 
mountains of longing. Now and then it seemed to me that 
the enchanted prey was about to meet halfway the enchanted 
hunter, that her haunch was working its way toward me under 
the soft sand of a remote and fabulous beach: and then her 
dimpled dimness would stir, and I would know she was farther 
away from me than ever. 

If I dwell at some length on the tremors and groping; of that 
distant night, it is because 1 insist upon proring that 1 am not, 
and never was, and never could have been, a brutal scoundrel. 
The gentle and dreamy regions through which I crept were 
the patrimonies of poets — not crime’s prowling ground. Had 1 
reached my goal, my ecstasy would have been all softness, a 
case of internal combustion of which she would hardly have 
felt the heat, even if she were wide awake. But 1 still hoped she 
might gradually be engulfed in a completeness of stupor that 
would allow me to taste more than a glimmer of her. And so, 
in between tentative approximations, with a confusion of per- 
ception metamorphosing her into eyespots g{ moonlight or a 
fluffy flowering bush, I would dream I renamed consciousness, 
dream I lay in wait. 

In the first antemeridian hours there was a lull in the restless 
hole, night. Then around four the corridor toilet cascaded nr.d 
its door banged. A little after five a reverberating monologue 

.pm to . mve. in several installments, teem some courtverd 
or pu'rir.g place. It was not rcallv a monclrcuc, since tlm 

121 



speaker stopped every few seconds to listen (presumably) to f 
another fellow, but that other voice did not reach me, and 1 
so no real meaning could be derived from the part heard. Its : 
matter-of-fact intonations, however, helped to bring in the 1 
dawn, and the room was already suffused with lilac gray, when 
several industrious toilets went to work, one after the other, 
and the clattering and whining elevator began to rise and take ■ 
down early risers and downers, and for some minutes I miser- 
ably dozed, and Charlotte was a mermaid in a greenish tank, 
and somewhere in the passage Dr. Boyd said “Good morning 
to you” in a fruity voice, and birds were busy in the trees, and 
then Lolita yawned. 

Frigid gentlewomen of the jury! I had thought that months, 
perhaps years, would elapse before I dared to reveal myself to 
Dolores Haze; but by six she was wide awake, and by six fifteen 
we were technically lovers. I am going to tell you something 
very strange: it was she who seduced me. 

Upon hearing her first morning yawn, I feigned handsome 
profiled sleep. I just did not know what to do. Would she be 
shocked at finding me by her side, and not in some spare bed? 
Would she collect her clothes and lock herself up in the bath- 
room? Would she demand to be taken at once to Rams dale— 
to her mother's bedside — back to camp? But my Lo was a 
sportive lassie. I felt her eyes on me, and when she uttered at 
last that beloved chortling note of hers, I knew her eyes had 
been laughing. She rolled over to my side, and her warm brown 
hair came against my collarbone. I gave a mediocre imitation 
of waking up. We lay quietly. I gently caressed her hair, and 
we gently kissed. Her kiss, to my delirious embarrassment, had 
some rather comical refinements of flutter and probe which 
made me conclude she had been coached atnn early age by a 
little Lesbian. No Charlie boy could have taught her that As 
if to see whether I had my fill and learned the lesson, she drew 
away and surveyed me. Her cheekbones were flushed, her full 
underlip glistened, my dissolution was near. All at once, with 
a burst of rough glee (the sign of the nymphet!), she put her 
mouth to my ear — but for quite a while my mind could not 
separate into words the hot thunder of her whisper, and she 
laughed, and brushed the hair off her face, and tried again, and 
gradually the odd sense of living in a brand new, mad new 
dream world, where everything was permissible, came over me 
as I realized what she was suggesting. I answered I did not 
know what game she and Charlie had played. “You mean you 

122 


have never — •?” — her features twisted into a stare of disgusted 
incredulity. “You have never — ” she started again. I took time 
out by n uzzlin g her a little. “Lay off, will you," she said with 
a twangy whine, hastily removing her brown shoulder from 
my lips. (It was very curious the way she considered — and 
kept doing so for a long time — all caresses except kisses on the 
mouth or the stark act of love either “romantic slosh” or 
“abnormal".) 

“You mean,” she persisted, now kneeling above me, "yon 
never did it when you were a kid?” 

“Never,” I answered quite truthfully. 

“Okay,” said Lolita, ''here is where we start” 

However, I shall not bore my learned readers with a detailed 
account of Lolita’s presumption. Suffice it to say that not a 
trace of modesty did I perceive in this beautiful hardly formed 
young girl whom modem co-education, juvenile mores, the 
campfire racket and so forth had utterly and hopelessly de- 
praved. She saw the stark act merely as part of a youngster’s 
furtive world, unknown to adults. What adults did for pur- 
poses of procreation was no business of hers. My life was 
bandied by little Lo in an energetic, matter-of-fact manner 
as if it were an insensate gadget unconnected with me. While 
eager to impress me with the world of tough lads, she was 
not quite prepared for certain discrepancies between a kid’s 
life and mine. Pride alone prevented her from giving up; for, 
in my strange predicament, I feigned supreme stupidity and 
bad "her have her way — at least while I could still bear it. But 
really- these are irrelevant matters; I am not concerned with 
so-called “sex” at all. Anybody can imagine those elements 
of animality. A greater endeavor lures me on: to fix once for 
all the perilous magic of nymphets. 


30 

I have to tread carefully. I have to speak m a whisper. Oh 
you, veteran crime reporter, you grave old usher, you once 
popular policeman, now in solitary confinement after gracing 
that school crossing for years, you wretched emeritus read to by 
a boyl It would never do, would it, to have you fellows fail 

123 



madly in love with my Lolita! Had I been a painter, had the 
management of The Enchanted Hunters lost its mind one 
su mm er day and commissioned me to redecorate their dining 
room with murals of my own making, this is what I might have 
thought up, let me list some fragments: 

There would have been a lake. There would have been an 
arbor in flame-flower. There would have been nature studies — 
a tiger pursuing a bird of paradise, a choking snake sheathing 
whole the flayed trunk of a shoat. There would have been a 
sultan, his face expressing great agony (belied, as it were, by 
his molding caress), helping a callypygean slave child to climb 
a column of onyx. There would have been those luminous 
globules of gonadal glow that travel up the opalescent sides of 
juke boxes. There would have been aD lands of camp activities 
on the part of the intermediate group. Canoeing, Coranting, 
Combing Curls in the lakeside sun. There would have been 
poplars, apples, a suburban Sunday. There would have been a 
fire opal dissolving within a ripple-ringed pool, a last throb, a 
last dab of color, stinging red, smarting pink, a sigh, a wincing 
child. 



I am trying to describe these things not to relive them in 
my present boundless misery, but to sort out the portion of 
hell and the portion of heaven in that strange, awful, madden- 
ing world — nymphet love. The beastly and beautiful merged at 
one point, and it is that borderline I would like to fix, and I 
feel I fail to do so utterly. Why? 

The stipulation of the Roman law, according to which a girl 
may marry at twelve, was adopted by the Church, and is still 
preserved, rather tacitly, in some of the United States. And 
fifteen is lawful everywhere. There is nothing wrong, say both 
hemispheres, when a brute of forty, blessed by the local priest 
and bloated with drink, sheds his sweat-drenched finery and 
thrusts himself up to the hilt into his youthful bride. “In such 
stimulating temperate climates [says an old magazine in this 
prison library] as St Louis, Chicago and Cincinnati, girls 

124 


mature about the end of their twelfth year.” Dolores Haze was 
bom less than three hundred miles from stimulating Cin- 
cinnati. I have but followed nature. I am nature's faithful 
hound. Why then this horror that I cannot shake off? Did I 
deprive her of her flower? Sensitive gentlewomen of the jury, 
I was not even her first lover. 


32 


She toed me the way she had been debauched. We ate flavor- 
less mealy bananas, bruised peaches and very palatable potato 
chips, and die Kleine told me everything. Her voluble but dis- 
jointed account was accompanied by many a droll moue. As I 
think I have already observed, I especially remember one wry 
face on an “ughl” basis: jelly-mouth distended sideways and 
eyes rolled up in a routine blend of comic disgust, resignation 
and tolerance for young frailty. 

Her astounding tale started with an introductory mention of 
her tent-mate of the previous summer, at another camp, a “very 
select” one as she put it That tent-mate ("quite a derelict 
character,” “half-crazy,” but a “swell kid’’) instructed her in 
various manipulations. At first; loyal Lo refused to tell me 
her name. 

“Was it Grace Angel?” I asked. . 

She shook her head. No, it wasn’t, it was the daughter of a 
big shot. He — 

“Was it perhaps Rose Carmine?” 

"No, of course, not Her father — ” 

"Was it, then, Agnes Sheridan, perchance?” 

She swallowed and shook her head — and then did a double 
take. 

“Say, how come you know all those kids?” 

I explained. 

Well,” she said. “They are pretty bad, some of that school 
bunch, but not that bad. If you have to know, her name was 
Elizabeth Talbot, she goes now to a swanky private school, 
her father is an executive.” 

I recalled with a funny pang the frequency with which poor 

125 



Charlotte used to introduce into party chat such elegant tid- 
bits as “when my daughter was out hiking last year with the 
Talbot girl.” 

I wanted to know if either mother had learned of those 
Sapphic diversions? 

“Gosh no,” exhaled limp Lo mimicking dread and relief, 
pressing a falsely fluttering hand to her chest. 

I was more interested, however, in heterosexual experience. 
She had entered the sixth grade at eleven, soon after moving 
to Ramsdale from the Middle West. What did she mean by 
“pretty bad”? 

Well, the Miranda twins had shared the same bed for years, 
and Donald Scott, who was the dumbest boy in the school, 
had done it with Hazel Smith in his uncle's garage, and Ken- 
neth Knight — who was the brightest— -used to exhibit himself 
wherever and whenever he had a chance, and — 

“Let us switch to Camp Q,” I said. And presently I got the 
whole story. 

Barbara Burke, a sturdy blond, two years older than Lo and 
by far the camp’s best swimmer, had a very special canoe 
'which she shared with Lo “because I was the only other girl 
who could make Willow Island” (some swimming test, I 
imagine) . Through July, every morning — mark, reader, every 
blessed morning — Barbara and Lo would be helped to carry the 
boat to Onyx or Eryx (two small lakes in the wood ) by Charlie 
Holmes, the camp mistress' son, aged thirteen — and the only 
human male for a couple of miles around (excepting an old 
meek stone-deaf handyman, and a farmer in an old Ford who 
sometimes sold the campers eggs as farmers will); every morn- 
ing, oh my reader, the three children would take a short cut 
through the beautiful innocent forest brimming with all the 
emblems of youth, dew, birdsongs, and at one point, among 
the luxuriant undergrowth, Lo would be left as sentinel, while 
Barbara and the boy copulated behind a bush. 

At first, Lo had refused “to try what it was like,’' but 
curiosity and camaraderie prevailed, and soon she and Barbara 
were doing it by turns with the silent, coarse and surly but 
indefatigable Charlie, who had as much sex appeal as a raw 
carrot but sported a fascinating collection of contraceptives 
which he used to fish out of a third nearby lake, a consider- 
ably larger and more populous one, called Lake Climax, after 
the booming young factory town of that name. Although 
conceding it was “sort of fun” and “fine for the complexion,” 

126 


Lolita, I am glad to say, held Charlie's mind and manners m 
the greatest contempt Nor had her temperament been roused 
by that filthy fiend. In fact, I think he had rather stunned it, 

despite the "fun.” , . , . 

By that time it was close to ten. With the ebb of lust, an 
ashen sense of awfulness, abetted by the realistic -drabness of 
a gray nearalgic day, crept over me and bummed within my 
temples. Brown, naked, frail Lo, her narrow white buttocks 
to me, her sulky face to a door mirror, stood, aims akimbo, 
feet (in new slippers with pussy-fur tops) wide apart, and 
through a forehanging lock tritely mugged at herself in the 
glass. From the corridor came the cooing voices of colored 
maids at work, and presently there was a mild attempt to open 
the door of our room. I had Lo go to the bathroom and take 
a much-needed soap shower. The bed was a frightful mess 
with overtones of potato chips. She tried on a two-piece navy 
wool, then a sleeveless blouse with a swirly clathrate skirt, but 
the first was too tight and the second too ample, and when 
I begged her to hurry up (the situation was beginning to 
frighten me) , Lo viciously sent those nice presents of mine 
hurtling into a corner, and put on yesterday’ s dress. When 
she was ready at last, I gave her a lovely new purse of simulated 
calf (in which I had slipped quite a few pennies and two mint- 
bright dimes) and told her to buy herself a magazine in the 
lobby. 

"Ill be down in a minute,” I said. “And if I were you, my 
dear, I would not talk to strangers.” 

Except for my poor little gifts, there was not much to pack; 
but I was forced to devote a dangerous amount of time (was 
she up to something downstairs? ) to arranging the bed in sucb 
a way as to suggest the abandoned nest of a restless father 
and his tomboy daughter, instead of an ex-convict’s saturnalia 
with a couple of fat old whores. Then I finished dressing and 
had the hoary bellboy come up for the bags. 

Ever ything was fine. There, in the lobby, she sat, deep in an 
oyerstuffed blood-red armchair, deep in a lurid movie maga- 
zine. A fellow of my age in tweeds (the genre of the place 
had changed overnight to a spurious country-squire atmos- 
phere) was staring at my Lolita over his dead cigar and stale 
newspaper. She wore her professional white socks and saddle 
oxfords, and that bright print frock with the square throat a 
splash of jaded lamplight brought out the golden down on her 
warm brown limbs. There she sat, her legs carelessly high- 

127 



crossed, and her pale eyes swimming along the lines rath 
every now and then a blink. Bill’s wife had worshipped him 
from afar long before they ever met: in fact, she used to 
secretly admire the famous young actor as he ate sundaes in 
Schwob's drugstore. Nothing could have been more childish 
than her snubbed nose, freckled face or the purplish spot on 
her naked neck where a fairytale vampire had feasted, or the 
unconscious movement of her tongue exploring a touch of 
rosy rash around her swollen lips; nothing could be more harm- 
less than to read about JH1, an energetic starlet who made her 
own clothes and was a student of serious literature; nothing 
could be more innocent than the part in that glossy brown 
hair with that silky sheen on the temple; nothing could be 
more naive — But what sickening envy the lecherous fellow 
whoever he was — come to think of it, he resembled a little 
my Swiss uncle Gustave, also a great admirer of le dScouvert — 
would have experienced had he known that every nerve in me 
was stiH anointed and ringed with the feel of her body — the 
body of some immortal daemon disguised as a female child. 

Was pink pig Mr. Swoon absolutely sure my wife had not 
telephoned? He was. If she did, would he tell her we had 
'gone on to Aunt Clare’s place? He would, indeedie. I settled 
the bill and roused Lo from her chair. She read to the car. 
Still reading, she was driven to a so-called coffee shop a few 
blocks south. Oh, she ate all right. She even laid aside her 
magazine to eat, bnt a queer dullness had replaced her usual 
cheerfulness. I knew little Lo could be very nasty, so I braced 
myself and grinned, and waited for a squall. I was unbathed, 
unshaven, and had had no bowel movement. My nerves were 
a-jangle. I did not like the way my little mistress shrugged 
her shoulders and distended her nostrils when I attempted 
casual small talk. Had Phyllis been in the know before she 
joined her parents in Maine? I asked with a smile. "Look,” 
said Lo making a weeping grimace, “let us get off the sub- 
ject” I then tried — also unsuccessfully, no matter how I 
smacked my lips — to interest her in the road map. Our desti- 
nation was, let me remind my patient reader whose meek 
temper Lo ought to have copied, the gay town of LepingviHe, 
somewhere near a hypothetical hospital. That destination was 
in itself a perfectly arbitrary one (as, alas, so many were to be), 
and I shook in my shoes as I wondered how to keep the whole 
arrangement plausible, and what other plausible objectives 
to invent after we had taken in all the movies in Lepingville. 

128 


More and more uncomfortable did Humbert feel. It ■was 
something quite special, that feeling: an oppressive, hideous 
constraint as if I were sitting with the small ghost of some- 
body I had just killed. 

As she was in the act of getting back into the car, an ex- 
pression of pain flitted across Lo’s face. It flitted again, more 
meaningfully, as she settled down beside me. No doubt, she 
reproduced it that second time for my benefit. Foolishly, I 
asked her what was the matter. “Nothing, you brute,” she re- 
plied. “You what?” I asked. She was silent. Leaving Briceland. 
Loquacious Lo was silent Cold spiders of panic crawled down 
my back. This was an orphan. This was a lone child, an ab- 
solute waif, with whom a heavy-limbed, foul-smelling adult 
had had strenuous intercourse three times that very morning. 
Whether or not the realization of a lifelong dream had sur- 
passed all expectation, it had, in a sense, overshot its mark — 
and plunged into a nightmare. I had been careless, stupid, and 
ignoble. And let me be quite frank: somewhere at the bottom 
of that dark turmoil I felt the writhing of desire again, so 
monstrous was my appetite for that miserable nymphet. 
Mingled with the pangs of guilt was the agonizing thought 
that her mood might prevent me from making love to her 
again as soon as I found a nice country road where to park 
in peace. In other words, poor Humbert Humbert was dread- 
fully unhappy, and while steadily and inanely driving toward 
Lepingville, he kept racking his brains for some quip, under 
the bright wing of which he might dare turn to his seatmate. 
It was she, however, who broke the silence: 

“Oh, a squashed squirrel,” she said. “What a shame.” 

‘Tfes, isn't it?” (eager, hopeful Hum). 

“Let us stop at the next gas station,” Lo continued. **I want 
to go to the washroom.” 

‘We shall stop wherever you want,” I said. And then as a 
lovely, lonely, supercilious grove (oaks, I thought; American 
trees at that stage were beyond me) started to echo greenly 
the rush of our car, a red and ferny road on our right turned 
its head before slanting into the woodland, and I suggested 
we might perhaps — 

"Drive on,” my Lo cried shrilly. 

"Righto. Take it easy.” (Down, poor beast, down.) 

I glanced at her. Thank God, the child was smiling. 

“You chump,” she said, sweetly smiling at me. “You revolt- 
ing creature, I was a daisy-fresh girl, and look what you’ve 

129 



done to me. I ought to call the police and tell them yon raped 
me. Oh you, dirty, dirty old man/' 

Was she joking? An ominous hysterical note rang through 
her silly words. Presently, making a sizzling sound with her 
lips, she started complaining of pains, said she could not sit, 
said I had tom something inride her. The sweat rolled down 
my neck, and we almost rah over some little animal or other 
that was crossing the road with tail erect, and again my vfle- 
tempered companion called me an ugly name. When we 
stopped at the filing station, she scrambled out without a 
word and was a long time away. Slowly, lovingly, an elderly 
friend with a broken nose, wiped my windshield — they do it 
differently at every place, from chamois cloth to soapy brush, 
this fellow used a pink sponge. 

She appeared at last. “Look,” she said in that neutral voice 
that hurt me so, “give me some dimes and nickels. I want to 
call mother in that hospital. What’s the number?” 

“Get in,” I said. “You can’t call that number.” 

“Why?” 

“Get in and slam the door.” 

She got in and slammed the door. The old garage man 
beamed at her. I swung onto the highway. * 

'Why can’t I call my mother if I want to?” 

“Because,” I answered, “your mother is dead.” 



In the gat town of Lepingville I bought her four books of 
comics, a box of candy, a box of sanitary pads, two cokes, a 
manicure set, a travel clock with a luminous dial, a ring with a 
real topaz, a tennis racket, roller skates with white high shoes, 
field glasses, a portable radio set, chewing gum, a transparent 
raincoat, sunglasses, some more garments— swooners, shorts, 
all kinds of summer frocks. At the hotel we had separate 
rooms, but in the middle of the night she came sobbing into 
mine, and we made it up very gently. You see, she bad abso- 
lutely nowhere else to go. 


130 


Part Two 




1 


It was then that began our extensive travels all over the 
States. To any other type of tourist accommodation I soon 
grew to prefer the Functional Motel — dean, neat, safe nooks, 
ideal places for sleep, argument, reconciliation, insatiable illicit 
love. At first, in my dread of arousing suspicion, I would ea- 
gerly pay for both sections of one double unit, each containing 
a double bed. I wondered what type of foursome this arrange- 
ment was ever intended for, since only a pharisaic parody of 
privacy could be attained by means of the incomplete partition 
diriding the cabin or room into two communicating love nests. 
By and by, the very possibilities that such honest promiscuity 
suggested (two young couples merrily swapping mates or a 
child shamming sleep to earwitness primal sonorities) made me 
bolder, and every now and then I would take a bed-and-cot 
or twin-bed cabin, a prison cell of paradise, with yellow window 
shades pulled down to create a morning illusion of Venice and 
sunshine when actually it was Pennsylvania and rain. 

We came to know — nous eonnumes, to use a Flaubertian 
intonation — the stone cottages under enormous Chateaubrian- 

133 



desque trees, the brick unit, the adobe unit, the stucco court, 
on what the Tour Book of the Automobile Association de- 
scribes as “shaded” or “spacious” or 'landscaped” grounds. 
The log kind, finished in knotty pine, reminded Lo, by its 
golden-brown glaze, of fried-chicken bones. We held in con- 
tempt the plain whitewashed clapboard Kabins, with their 
faint sewerish smell or some other gloomy self-conscious stench 
and nothing to boast of (except “good beds”), and an un- 
smiling landlady always prepared to have her gift (“. . . well, 

I could give you . . .”) turned down. 

Nous connhmes (this is royal fun) the would-be entice- 
ments of their repetitious names — all those Sunset Motels, 
U-Beam Cottages, Hillcrest Courts, Pine View' Courts, Moun- 
tain View Courts, Skyline Courts, Park Plaza Courts, Green 
Acres, Mac’s Courts. There was sometimes a special line in 
_the_ write-up, such as “Children welcome, pets allowed” (You I 
are welcome, you are allowed). The baths were mostly tiled 
showers, vrith an endless variety of spouting mechanisms, 
but with one definitely non-Laodicean characteristic in com- 
mon, a propensity, while in use, to turn instantly beastly hot or 
blindingly cold upon you, depending on whether your neigh- 
bor turned on his cold or his hot to deprive you of a necessary 
complement in the shower you had so carefully blended. Some 
motels had instructions pasted above the toilet (on whose 
.tank the towels were unhygienically heaped) asking guests 
not to throw into its bowl garbage, beer cans, cartons, still- 
bom babies; others had special notices under glass, such as 
Things to Do (Riding: You wall often see riders coming down 
Main Street on their way back from a romantic moonlight 
ride. “Often at 3 a.m.,” sneered unromantic Lo). 

Nous connfim es the various types of motor court operators, 
the reformed criminal, the retired teacher and the business 
flop, among the males; and the motherly, pseudo-ladylike 
and madamic variants among the females. And sometimes 
trains would cry in the monstrously hot and humid night with 
heartrending and ominous plangency, mingling power and 
hysteria in one desperate scream. 

We avoided Tourist Homes, country cousins of Funeral 
ones, old-fashioned, genteel and showerless, with elaborate 
dressing tables in depressingly white-and-pink little bedrooms, 
and photographs of the landlady’s children in all their instars. 
But I did surrender, now r and then, to Lo’s predilection for 
‘real” hotels. She would pick out in the book, while I petted 

134 


her in the parted car in the silence of a dash-mellowed, mys- 
E terious side-road, some highly recommended lake lodge which 
c ofiered all sorts of things magnified by the flashlight she moved 
ill over them, such as congenial company, between-meals snacks, 
outdoor barbecues— but which in my mind conjured up odious 
i: visions of stinking high school boys in sweatshirts and an em- 
:: ber-red cheek pressing against hers, while poor Dr. Humbert, 
k embracing nothing but two masculine knees, would cold- 
humor his piles on the damp turf. Most tempting to her, 
too, were those “Colonial” Inns, which apart from “gracious 
~ atmosphere” and picture windows, promised "unlimited 

- quantities of M-m-m food.” Treasured recollections of my 
£ father’s palatial hotel sometimes led me to seek for its like 
& in the strange country we traveled through. I was soon dis- 
e couraged; but Lo kept following the scent of rich food ads, 

while I derived a not exclusively economic kick from such 

- roadside signs as Timber Hotel, Children under 14 Free. 
~ On the other hand, I shudder when recalling that soi-disant 

- "high-class” resort in a Midwestern state, which advertised 

-■ "raid-the-icebox” midnight snacks and, intrigued by my ao- 
? cent, wanted to know my dead wife’s and dead mother’s 
~ maiden names. A two-days’ stay there cost me a hundred and 
: twenty-four dollars! And do you remember, Miranda, that 

’ other “ultrasmart” robbers’ den with complimentary morning 
* coffee and circulating ice water, and no children under six- 

- teen (no Lolitas, of course)? 

1 Immediately upon arrival at one of the plainer motor 
' courts which became our habitual haunts, she would set the 
: electric fan a-whirr, or induce me to drop a quarter into the 

radio, or she would read all the signs and inquire with a whine 

- why she could not go riding up some advertised trail or 
swimming in that local pool of warm mineral water. Most 
often, in the slouching, bored way she cultivated, Lo would 
fall prostrate and abominably desirable into a red springchair 
or a green chaise longue, or a steamer chair of striped canvas 
with footrest and canopy, or a sling chair, or any other lawn 
chair under a garden umbrella on the patio, and it would 
fake hours of blandishments, threats and promises to make 
her lend me for a few seconds her brown limbs in the se- 
clusion of the five-dollar room before undertaking anything 
she might prefer to my poor joy, 

A combination of naTvetd and deception, of charm and vul- 
garity, of blue sulks and rosy mirth, Lolita, when she chose, 

135 


could be a most exasperating brat. I was not really quite pre- 
pared for her fits of disorganized boredom, intense and ve- 
hement griping, her sprawling, droopy, dopey-eyed style, and 
what is called goofing off — a kind of diffused clowning which ■ 
she thought was tough in a boyish hoodlum way. Mentally, 
I found her to be a disgustingly conventional little girl. Sweet 
hot jazz, square dancing, gooey fudge sundaes, musicals, movie 
magazines and so forth— these were the obvious items in 
her list of beloved things. The Lord knows how many nickels 
I fed to the gorgeous music boxes that came with every meal 
we had! I still hear the nasal voices of those invisibles serenad- 
ing her, people with names like Sammy and Jo and Eddy and 
Tony and Peggy and Guy and Patty and Rex, and sentimental 
song hits, all of them as similar to my ears as her various 
candies were to my palate. She believed, with a kind of celestial 
trust, any advertisement or advice that appeared in Movie 
Love or Screen Land — Starasil Starves Pimples, or “You bet- 
ter watch out if you're wearing your shirttails outside your 
jeans, gals, because Jill says you shouldn’t." If a roadside sign 
said: Visit Our Gift Shop — we had to visit it, had to buy its 
Indian curios, dolls, copper jewelry, cactus candy. The words 
“novelties and souvenirs” simply entranced her by their tro- 
chaic lilt. If some cafd sign proclaimed Icecold Drinks, she 
was automatically stirred, although all drinks everywhere were 
ice-cold. She it was to whom ads were dedicated: the ideal 
consumer, the subject and object of every foul poster. And she 
attempted — unsuccessfully — to patronize only those restau- 
rants where the holy spirit of Huncan Dines had descended 
upon the cute paper, napkins and cottage-cheese-crested salads. 

. In those days, neither she nor I had thought up yet the sys- 
tem of monetary bribes which was to work such havoc with 
my nerves and her morals somewhat later. I relied on three 
other methods to keep my pubescent concubine in submis- 
sion and passable temper. A few years before, she had spent 
a rainy summer under Miss Phalen's bleary eye in a dilapi- 
dated Appalachian farmhouse that had belonged to some 
gnarled Haze or other in the dead past. It still stood among 
its rank acres of goldenrod on the edge of a flowerless forest, 
at the end of a permanently muddy road, twenty miles from 
the nearest hamlet Lo recalled that scarecrow of a house, 
the solitude, the soggy old pastures, the wind, the bloated 
wilderness, -with an energy of disgust that distorted her mouth 
and fattened her half-revealed tongue. And it was there that 

136 



I warned her she would dwell with me in exile for months 
and years if need be, studying under me French and Latin, 
unless her "present attitude” changed. Charlotte, 1 began to 
understand youl 

A simple child, Lo would scream nol and frantically dutch 
at my driving hand whenever I put a stop to her tornadoes of 
temper by turning in the middle of a highway with the im- 
plication that I was about to take her straight to that dark 
and dismal abode. The farther, however, we traveled away 
from it west, -the less tangible that menace became, and I had 
to adopt other methods of persuasion. 

Among these, the reformatory threat is the one I recall with 
the deepest moan of shame. From the very beginning of our 
concourse, I was clever enough to realize that I must secure 
her complete co-operation in keeping our relations secret, that 
it should become a second nature with her, no matter what 
grudge she might bear me, no matter what other pleasures 
she might seek. 

"Come and kiss your old man,” I would say, "and drop 
that moody nonsense. In former times, when I was still your 
dream male [the reader will notice what pains I took to speak 
Lo’s tongue , you swooned to records of the number one 
throb-and-sob idols of your coevals [Lo: "Of my what? Speak 
English”]. That idol of your pals sounded, you thought, like 
friend Humbert. But now, I am just your old man, a dream 
dad protecting his dream daughter. 

"My chbre Dolor dsl I want to protect you, dear, from all 
the horrors that happen to little girls in coal sheds and alley 
ways, and, alas, comme vous le savez trop bien, ma gen tide, in 
the blueberry woods during the bluest of summers. Through 
thick and thin I will still stay your guardian, and if you are 
good, I hope a court may legalize that guardianship before 
long. Let us, however, forget, Dolores Haze, so-called legal 
terminology, terminology that accepts as rational the term 
*Iewd and lascivious cohabitation.' I am not a criminal sexual 
psychopath taking indecent liberties with a child. The rapist 
was Charlie Holmes; I am the therapist — a matter of nice 
spacing in the way of distinction, I am your daddum, Lo. 
Look, I've a learned book here about young girls. Look, dar- 
ling, what it says. I quote: the normal girl — normal, mark 
you — the normal girl is usually extremely anxious to please 
her father. She feels in him the forerunner of the desired 
elusive male (‘elusive’ is good, by Polonius!) . The wise mother 

137 


(and your poor mother would have been wise, had she lived) 
will encourage a companionship between father and daughter, 
realizing — excuse the comy style — that the girl forms her 
ideals of romance and of men from her association with her 
father. Now, what association does this cheery book mean — ' 
and recommend? I quote again: Among Sicilians sexual rela- 
tions between a father and his daughter are accepted as a 
matter of course, and the girl who participates in such rela- 
tionship is not looked upon with disapproval by the society of 
which she is part. I'm a great admirer of Sicilians, fine athletes, 
fine musicians, fine upright people, Lo, and great lovers. But 
let’s not digress. Only the other day we read in the news- 
papers some bunkum about a middle-aged morals offender 
who pleaded guilty to the violation of the Mann act and to 
transporting a nine-year-old girl across state lines for immoral 
purposes, whatever these are. Dolores darh'ngl You are not 
nine but almost thirteen, and I would not advise you to con- 
sider yourself my cross-country slave, and I deplore the Mann 
act as lending jtself to a dreadful pun, the revenge that the 
Gods of Semantics take against b'ght-zippered Philistines. 
I am your father, and I am speaking English, and I love you. 

“Finally, let us see what happens if you, a minor, accused 
of having impaired the morals of an adult in a respectable inn, 
what happens if you complain to the police of my having kid- 
naped and raped you? Let us suppose they believe you. A 
minor female, who allows a person over twenty-one to know 
her carnally, involves her victim into statutory rape, or second- 
degree sodomy, depending on the technique; and the maxi- 
mum penalty is ten years. So I go to jail. Okay. I go to jail. 
But what happens to you, my orphan? Well, you are luclder. 
You become the ward of the Department of Public Welfare — 
which I am afraid sounds a little bleak. A nice grim matron 
of the Miss Phalen type, but more rigid and not a drinking 
woman,' will take away your lipstick and fancy clothes. No 
more gadding aboutl I don’t know if you have ever heard of 
the law's relating to dependent, neglected, incorrigible and 
delinquent children. While I stand gripping the bars, you, 
happy neglected child, will be given a choice of various dwell- 
ing places, all more or less the same, the correctional school, 
the reformatory, the juvenile detention home, or one of those 
admirable girls’ protectories where you knit things, and sing 
hymns, and have rancid pancakes on Sundays. You will go 
there, Lolita — my Lolita, this Lolita will leave her Catullus 

138 



and go there, as the wayward girl you are. In plainer words, if 
we two are found out, you will be analyzed and institutional- 
ized, my pet, c'est tout. You will dwell, my Lolita will dwell 
(come here, my brown flower) with thirty-nine other dopes in 
a dirty dormitory (no, allow me, please) under the supervision 
of hideous matrons. This is the situation, this is the choice. 
Don’t you think that under the circumstances Dolores Haze 
had better stick to her old man?” 

By rubbing all this in, I succeeded in terrorizing Lo, who 
despite a certain brash alertness of manner and spurts of wit 
was not as intelligent a child as her I.Q. might suggest. But 
if I managed to establish that background of shared secrecy 
and shared guilt, I was much less successful in keeping her in 
good humor. Every morning during our yearlong travels I had 
to devise some expectation, some special point in space and 
time for her to look forward to, for her to survive till bedtime. 
Otherwise, deprived of a shaping and sustaining purpose, the 
skeleton of her day sagged and collapsed. The object in view 
might be anything — a lighthouse in Virginia, a natural cavdin 
Arkansas converted to a caf£, a collection of guns and violins 
somewhere in Oklahoma, a replica of the Grotto of Lourdes 
in Louisiana, shabby photographs . of the bonanza mining 
period in the local museum of a Rocky Mountain resort, any- 
thing whatsoever — but it had to be there, in front of us, like a 
fixed star, although as likely as not Lo would feign gagging ' 
as soon as we got to it. 

By putting the geography of the United States into motion, 

I did my best for hours on end to give her the impression of 
"going places,” of rolling on to some definite destination, to 
some unusual delight. I have never seen such smooth amiable 
roads as those that now radiated before us, across the crazy 
quilt of forty -eight states. Voraciously we consumed those 
long highways, in rapt silence we glided over their glossy black 
dance floors. Not only had Lo no eye for scenery but she 
furiously resented my calling her attention to this or that 
enchanting detail of landscape; which I myself learned to dis- 
cern only after being exposed for quite a time to the delicate 
beauty ever present in the margin of our undeserving journey. 
By a paradox of pictorial thought, the average lowland North- 
Amcrican countryside had at first seemed to me something 
I accepted with a shock of amused recognition because of 
those painted oilcloths which were imported from America 
m the old days to be hung above vasbstands in Central- 

139 


European nurseries, and which fascinated a drowsy child at 
bed time with the rustic green views they depicted— opaque 
curly trees, a bam, cattle, a brook, the dull white of vague 
orchards in bloom, and perhaps a stone fence or hills of 
greenish gouache. But gradually the models of those ele- 
mentary rusticities became stranger and stranger to the eye, 
the nearer I came to know them., .Beyond the tilled plain, 
beyond the toy roofs, there would be a slow suffusion of inutile 
loveliness, a low sun in a platinum haze with a warm, peeled- 
peach tinge pervading the upper edge of a two-dimensional, 
dove-gray cloud fusing with the distant amorous mist. There 
might be a line of spaced trees silhouetted against the horizon, 
and hot still noons above a wilderness of clover, and Claude 
Lorrain clouds inscribed remotely into misty azure with only 
their cumulus part conspicious against the neutral swoon of 
the background. Or again, it might be a stem El Greco hori- 
zon, pregnant with inky rain, and a passing glimpse of some 
mummy-necked farmer, and all around alternating strips of 
quick-silverish water and harsh green com, the whole arrange- 
ment opening like a fan, somewhere in Kansas. 

Now and then, in the vastness of those plains, huge trees 
would advance toward us to cluster self-consciously by the 
roadside and provide a bit of humanitarian shade above a pic- 
nic table, with sun flecks, flattened paper cups, samaras and 
discarded ice-cream sticks littering the brown ground. A great 
user of roadside facilities, my unfastidious Lo would be 
charmed by toilet signs — Guys-Gals, John-Jane, Jack-Jill and 
even Buck’s-Doe's; while lost in an artist's dream, I would 
stare at the honest brightness of the gasoline paraphernalia 
against the splendid green of oaks, or at a distant hill scram- 
bling out — scarred but still untamed — from the wilderness 
of agriculture that was trying to swallow it. 

At night, tall trucks studded with colored lights, like dread- 
ful giant Christmas trees, loomed in the darkness and thun- 
dered by the belated little sedan. And again next day a thinly 
populated sky, losing its blue to the heat, would melt over- 
head, and Lo would clamor for a drink, and her cheeks would 
hollow vigorously over the straw, and the car inside would be 
a furnace when we got in again, and the road shimmered 
ahead, with a remote car changing its shape mirage-like in the 
surface glare, and seeming to hang for a moment, old-fash- 
ionedly square and high, in the hot haze. And as we pushed 
westward, patches of what the garage-man called “sage brush” 

140 


appeared, and then the mysterious outlines of table-like hills, 
and the red bluffs ink-blotted with junipers, and then a moun- 
tain range, dun grading into blue, and blue into dream, and 
the desert would meet us with a steady gale, dust, gray thorn 
bushes, and hideous bits of tissue paper mimicking pale flow- 
ers among the prickles of wind-tortured withered stalks all 
along the highway; in the middle of which there sometimes 
stood simple cows, immobilized in a position (tail left, white 
eyelashes right) cutting across all human rules of traffic. 

My lawyer has suggested I give a clear, frank account of the 
itinerary we followed, and I suppose I have reached here a 
point where I cannot avoid that chore. Roughly, during that 
mad year (August 1947 to August 1948), our route began 
with a series of waggles and whorls in New England, then 
meandered south, up and down, east and west; dipped deep 
into ce qu’on appelle Dixieland, avoided Florida because the 
Farlow's were there, veered west, zigzagged through com belts 
and cotton belts (this is not too clear I am afraid, Clarence, 
but I did not keep any notes, and have at my disposal only an 
atrociously crippled tour book in three volumes, almost a 
symbol of my tom and tattered past, in which to check these 
recollections); crossed and recrossed the Rockies, straggled 
through southern deserts where we wintered; reached the 
Pacific, turned north through the pale lilac fluff of flowering 
shrubs along forest roads; almost reached the Canadian border; 
and proceeded east, across good lands and had lands, back to 
agriculture on a grand scale, avoiding, despite little Lo’s 
strident remonstrations, little Lo’s birthplace, in a com, coal 
and hog producing area; and finally returned to the fold of 
the East, petering out in the college towm of Beardsley. 


. 2 

Now, rs- perusing what follows, the reader should hear in 
mind not only the general circuit as adumbrated above, with 
its many sidetrips and tourist traps, secondary circles and skit- 
tish deviations, but also the fact that far from being an 
indolent parfie de plaisir, our tour was a hard, twisted, teleo- 
logical growth, whose sole raison d’etre (these French cliches 

141 


are symptomatic) was to keep my companion in passable 
humor from kiss to kiss. 

Thumbing through that battered tour book, I dimly evoke 
that Magnolia Garden in a southern state which cost me four 
bucks and which, according to the ad in the book, you must 
visit for three reasons: because John Galsworthy (a stone- 
dead writer of sorts) acclaimed it as the world’s fairest garden; 
because in 1900 Baedeker’s Guide had marked it with a star; 
and finally, because . . . O, Reader, My Reader, guess! . . . 
because children (and by Jingo was not my Lolita a childl ) will 
“walk starry-eyed and reverently through this foretaste of 
Heaven, drinking in beauty that can influence a life.” “Not 
mine,” said grim Lo, and settled down on a bench with the 
fillings of two Sunday papers in her lovely lap. 

We passed and re-passed through the whole gamut of 
American roadside restaurants, from the lowly Eat with its 
deer head (dark trace of long tear at inner canthus), "humor- 
ous” picture post cards of the posterior “Kurort” type, impaled 
guest checks, life savers, sunglasses, adman visions of celestial 
sundaes, one half of a chocolate cake under glass, and several 
horribly experienced flies zigzagging over the sticky sugar- 
pour on the ignoble counter; and all the way to the expensive 
place with the subdued lights, preposterously poor table linen, 
inept waiters (ex-convicts or college boys), the roan back of a 
screen actress, the sable eyebrows of her male of the moment, 
and an orchestra of zoot-suiters with trumpets. 

We inspected the world’s largest stalagmite in a cave where 
three southeastern states have a family reunion; admission by 
age; adults one dollar, pubescents sixty cents. A granite obelisk 
commemorating the Battle of Blue Licks, with old bones and 
Indian pottery in the museum nearby, Lo a dime, very reason- 
able. The present log cabin boldly simulating the past log 
cabin where Lincoln was bom. A boulder, with a plaque, in 
memory of the author of "Trees” (by now we are in Poplar 
Cove, N.C., reached by what my kind, tolerant, usually so 
restrained tour book angrily calls “a very narrow road, poorly 
maintained,” to which, though no Kihnerite, I subscribe). 
From a hired motorboat operated by an elderly, but still 
repulsively handsome White Russian, a baron they said (Lo’s 
palms were damp, the little fool), who had known in Cali- 
fornia, good old Maximovich and Valeria, we could distinguish 
the inaccessible "millionaires’ colony” on an island, somewhere 
off the Georgia coast. We inspected further: a collection of 

142 


European hotel picture post cards in a museum devoted to 
hobbies at a Mississippi resort, where with a hot wave of pride 
I discovered a colored photo of my father’ s Mirana, its striped 
awnings, its flag flying above the retouched palm trees. “So 
what?” said Lo, squinting at the bronzed owner of an ex- 
pensive car who had followed us into the Hobby House. Relics 
of the cotton era. A forest in Arkansas and, on her brown 
shoulder, a raised purple-pink swelling (the work of some 
gnat) which I eased of its beautiful transparent poison between 
my long thumbnails and then sucked tfll I was gorged on her 
spicy blood. Bourbon street (in a town named New Orleans) 
whose sidewalks, said the tour book, "may [I liked the ‘may 1 ] 
feature entertainment by pickaninnies'who will [I liked the 
'will' even better] tap-dance for pennies ” (what run), while 
“its numerous small and intimate night clubs are thronged 
with visitors” (naughty). Collections of frontier lore. Ante- 
bellum homes with iron-trellis balconies and hand-w’orked 
stairs, the land down which movie ladies with sun-kissed 
shoulders mn in rich Technicolor, holding up the fronts of 
their flounced skirts with both little hands in that special way, 
and the devoted Negress shaking her head on the upper land- 
ing. The Menninger Foundation, a psychiatric clinic, just for 
the heck of it A patch of beautifully eroded clay; and yucca 
blossoms, so pure, so waxy, but lousy with creeping white flies. 
Independence, Missouri, the starting point of the Old Oregon 
Trail; and Abilene, Kansas, the home of the Wild Bill Some- 
thing Rodeo. Distant mountains. Near mountains. More 
mountains; bluish beauties never attainable, or ever turning 
into inhabited hill after Ml; south-eastern ranges, altitudinal 
failures as alps go; heart and sky-piercing snow-veined gray 
colossi of stone, relentless peaks appearing from nowhere at a l 

turn of the highway; timbered enormities, with a system of l 

neatly overlapping dark firs, interrupted in places by pale j 

puffs of aspen; pink and lilac formations, Pharaonic, phallic, [ 

“too prehistoric for words” (blas6 Lo); buttes of black lava; j 

early spring mountains with young-elephant lanugo along their ) 

spines; end-of-the-summer mountains, all hunched up, their (' 

heavy Egyptian limbs folded under folds of tawny moth-eaten j 

plush; oatmeal hills, flecked with green round oaks; a last {. 

rufous mountain with a rich rug of lucerne at its foot 
. Moreover, we inspected: Little Iceberg Lake, somewhere 
m Colorado, and the snow banks, and the cushionets of tiny t 
alpine flowers, and more snow, down which Lo in red-peaked ( 

143 i 


cap tried to slide, and squealed, and was snowballed by some 
youngsters, and retaliated in ldnd comme on dit. Skeletons 
of burned aspens, patches of spired blue flowers. The various 
items of a scenic drive. Hundreds of scenic drives, thousands 
of Bear Creeks, Soda Springs, Painted Canyons. Texas, a 
drought-struck plain. Crystal Chamber in the longest cave in 
the world, children under 12 free, Lo a young captive. A col- 
lection of a local lady’s homemade sculptures, closed on a 
miserable Monday morning, dust, wind, witherland. Concep- 
tion Park, in a town on the Mexican border which I dared not 
cross. There and elsewhere, hundreds of gray hummingbirds 
in the dusk, probing the throats of dim flowers. Shakespeare, 
a ghost town in New Mexico, where bad man Russian Bill 
was colorfully hanged seventy years ago. Fish hatcheries. Cliff 
dwellings. The mummy of a child (Florentine Bea’s Indian 
contemporary). Our twentieth Hell’s Canyon. Our fiftieth 
Gateway to something or other fide that tour book, the cover 
of which had been lost by that time. A tick in my groin. Al- 
ways the same three old men, in hats and suspenders, idling 
away the summer afternoon under the trees near the public 
fountain. A hazy blue view beyond railings on a mountain 
pass, and the backs of a family enjoying it (with Lo, in a hot, 
happy, wild, intense, hopeful, hopeless whisper — “Look, the 
McCrystals, please, let's talk to them, please” — let's talk to 
them, readerl — “please! I'll do anything you want, oh, 
please . . .”). Indian ceremonial dances, strictly commercial. 
ART: American Refrigerator Transit Company. Obvious 
Arizona, pueblo dwellings, aboriginal pictogxaphs, a dinosaur 
track in a desert canyon, printed there thirty million years ago, 
when I was a child. A lanky, six-foot, pale boy with an active 
Adam's apple, ogling Lo and her orange-brown bare midriff, 
which I kissed five minutes later. Jack. Winter in the desert, 
spring in the foothills, almonds in bloom. Reno, a dreary town 
in Nevada, with a nightlife said to be “cosmopolitan and 
mature.” A winery in California, with a church built in the 
shape of a wine barrel. Death Valley. Scotty’s Castle. Works 
of Art collected by one Rogers over a period of years. The 
ugly villas of handsome actresses. R. L. Stevenson’s footprint 
on an extinct volcano. Mission Dolores: good title for book. 
Surf-carved sandstone festoons. A man having a lavish epileptic 
fit on the ground in Russian Gulch State Park. Blue, blue 
Crater Lake. A fish hatchery in Idaho and the State Peniten- 
tiary. Somber Yellowstone Park and its colored hot springs, 

144 


baby geysers, rainbows of bubbling mud— symbols of my pas- j 
sion. A herd of antelopes in a wildlife refuge. Our hundredth 
cavern, adults one dollar, Lolita fifty cents. A chateau built 
by a French marquess in N.D. The Com Palace in SJD.; and 
the huge heads of presidents carved in towering granite. The 
Bearded Woman read our jingle and now she is no longer 
single. A zoo in Indiana where a large troop of monkeys lived 
on concrete replica of Christopher Columbus’ flagship. Bil- 
lions of dead, or halfdead, fish-smelling May flies in every 
window of every' eating place all along a dreary sandy shore. > 
Fat gulls on big stones as seen from the ferry City of Che- 
boygan, whose brown woolly smoke arched and dipped over 
the green shadow it cast on the aquamarine lake. A motel 
whose ventilator pipe passed under the city sewer. Lincoln’s 
home, largely spurious, with parlor books and period furniture 
that most visitors reverently accepted as personal belongings. j 

We had rows, minor and major. The biggest ones we had | 

took place: at Lacework Cabins, Virginia; on Park Avenue, j 

Little Rock, near a school; on Milner Pass, 10,759 feet high, [ 

in Colorado; at the comer of Seventh Street and Central j 

Avenue in Phoenix, Arizona; on Third Street, Los Angeles, | 

because the tickets to some studio or other were sold out; j 

at a motel called Poplar Shade in Utah, where six pubescent [ 

trees were scarcely taller than my Lolita, and where she asked, | 

& propos de rien, how long did I think we were going to live j 

in stuffy cabins, doing filthy things together and never be- j 

having like ordinary people? On N. Broadway, Bums, Oregon, j 

comer of W. Washington, feeing Safeway, a grocery. In some j 

little town in the Sun Valley of Idaho, before a brick hotel, [ 

pale and flushed bricks nicely mixed, with opposite, a poplar j 

playing its liquid shadows all over the local Honor Roll. In a • 

sage brush wilderness, between Pinedale and Farson. Some- f 

where in Nebraska, on Main Street, near the First National r 

Bank, established 1889, with a view of a railway crossing in £ 

the vista of the street, and beyond that the white organ pipes j 

of a multiple silo. And on McEwen St, comer of Wheaton j 

Ave., in a Michigan town bearing his first name. 

We came to know the curious roadside species. Hitchhiking t 
Man, Homo pollex of science, with all its many sub-species and l 
forms: the modest soldier, spic and span, quietly waiting, qni- ?: 
cth conscious of khaki s viatic appeal; the schoolbov wishing to .J 
go two blocks; the killer wishing to go two thousand miles; the f- 
mystenous, nervous, elderly' gent, with brand-new suitcase and | 


i 


clipped mustache; a trio of optimistic Mexicans; the college 
student displaying the grime of vacational outdoor work as 
proudly as the name of the famous college arching across the 
front of his sweatshirt; the desperate lady whose battery has 
just died on her; the clean-cut, glossy-haired, shifty-eyed, white- 
faced young beasts in loud shirts and coats, vigorously, almost 
priapically thrusting out tense thumbs to tempt lone women 
or sadsack salesmen with fancy cravings. 

“Let’s take him,” Lo would often plead, rubbing her knees 
together in a way she had, as some particularly disgusting pol- 
Jex, some man of my age and shoulder breadth, with the face 
d claques of an unemployed actor, walked backwards, practical- 
ly in the path of our car. 

Oh, I had to keep a very sharp eye on Lo, little limp.Lol 
Owing perhaps to constant amorous exercise, she radiated, de- 
spite her very childish appearance, some special , languorous 
glow which threw garage fellows, hotel pages, vacationists, 
goons in luxurious cars, maroon morons near blued pools, into 
fits of concupiscence which might have ticlded my pride, had it 
not incensed my jealousy. For little Lo was aware of that glow 
of hers, and I would often catch her coulant un regard in the 
direction of some amiable male, some grease monkey, with a 
sinewy golden-brown forearm and watch-braceleted wrist, and 
hardly had I turned my back to go and buy this very Lo a 
lollipop, than I would hear her and the fair mechanic burst 
into a perfect love song of wisecracks. 

When, during our longer stops, I would relax after a par- 
ticularly violent morning in bed, and out of the goodness of my 
lulled heart .allow her — indulgent HumI — to visit the rose gar- 
den or children's library across the street with a motor court 
neighbor's plain little Mary and Mary’s eight-year old brother, 
Lo would come back an hour late, with barefoot Mary trailing 
far behind, and the little boy metamorphosed into two gan- 
gling, golden-haired high school uglies, all muscles and gonor- 
rhea. The reader may u’ell imagine what I answered my pet 
when — rather uncertainly, I admit — she would ask me if she 
could go with Carl and A1 here to the roller-skating rink. 

I remember the first time, a dusty windy afternoon, I did 
let her go to one such rink. Cruelly she said it w'ould be no fun 
if I accompanied her, since that time of day was reserved for 
teenagers. We wrangled out a compromise: I remained in the 
car, among other (empty) cars with their noses to the canvas- 
topped open-air rink, where some fifty young people, many in 

146 


pairs, were endlessly rolling round and round to mechanical 
music, and the wind silvered the trees. Dolly wore blue jeans 
and white high shoes, as most of the other girls did. I kept 
counting the revolutions of the rolling crowd — and suddenly 
she was missing. When she rolled past again, she was together 
with three hoodlums whom I had heard analyze a moment be- 
fore the girl skaters from the outside — and jeer at a lovely leggy 
young thing who had arrived clad in red shorts instead of those 
jeans or slacks. 

At inspection stations on highways entering Arizona or Cali- 
fornia, a policeman’s cousin would peer with such intensity at 
us that my poor heart wobbled. “Any honey?” he would in- 
quire, and every time my sweet fool giggled. I still have, vibrat- 
ing all along my optic nerve, visions of Lo on horseback, a link 
in the chain of a guided trip along a bridle trail: Lo bobbing at 
a walking pace, with an old woman rider in front and a lech- 
erous red-necked dude-rancher behind; and I behind him, 
hating his fat flowery-shirted back even more fervently than a 
motorist does a slow track 'on a mountain road. Or else, at a 
ski lodge, I would see her floating away from me, celestial and 
solitary, in an ethereal chairlift, up and up, to a glittering sum- 
mit where laughing athletes stripped to the waist were waiting 
for her, for her. 

In whatever town we stopped I would inquire, in my polite 
European way, anent the whereabouts of natatoriums, muse- 
ums, local schools, the number of children in the nearest school 
and so forth; and at school bus time, smiling and twitching a 
little (I discovered this tic nerveux because cruel Lo was the 
first to mimic it) , I would park at a strategic point, with my 
vagrant schoolgirl beside me in the car, to watch the children 
leave school — always a pretty sight. This sort of thing soon 
began to bore my so easily bored Lolita, and, having a childish 
lack of sympathy for other people's whims, she would insult 
me and my desire to have her caress me while blue-eyed little 
brunettes in blue shorts, copperheads in green boleros, and 
blurred boyish blondes in faded slacks passed by in the sun. 

As a sort of compromise, I freely advocated whenever and 
wherever possible the use of swimming pools with other girl 
children. She adored brilliant water and was a remarkably 
diver. Comfortably Tobed, I would settle down in the 
rich post-meridian shade after my own demure dip, and there I 
would sit, with a dummy book or a bag of bonbons, or both, or 
nothing but my tingling glands, and watch her gambol, rabber- 

M7 



capped, bepearled, smoothly tanned, as glad as. an ad, in bet 
trim-fitted satin pants and shirred bra. Pubescent sweetheart! 
How. smugly would I marvel that she was mine, mine, mine, 
and revise the recent matitudinal swoon to the moan of the 
mourning doves, and devise the late afternoon one, and slitting 
my sun-speared eyes, compare Lolita to whatever other nymph- 
ets parsimonious chance collected around her for my antho- 
logical delectation and judgment; and today, putting my hand 
on my ailing heart, I really do not think that any of them ever 
surpassed her in desirability, or if they did, it was so two or 
three times at the most, in a certain light, with certain per- 
fumes blended in the air — once in the hopeless case of a pale 
Spanish child, the daughter of a heavy-jawed nobleman, and 
another time — ma is je divague. 

Naturally, I had to be always wary, fully realizing, in my 
lucid jealousy, the danger of those dazzling romps. I had only 
to turn away for a moment — to walk, say, a few steps in order 
to see if our cabin was at last ready after the morning change of 
linen — and Lo and Behold, upon returning, I would find the 
former, les yeux perdus, dipping and kicking her long-toed feet 
in the water on the stone edge of which she lolled, while on 
either side of her, there crouched a brun adolescent whom 
her russet beauty and the quicksilver in the baby folds of her 
stomach were sure to cause to se toidie — oh Baudelaire! — in 
recurrent^ dreams fonnonths to come. 

I tried to teach her to play tennis so we might have more 
amusements in common; but although I had been a good 
player in my prime, I proved to be hopeless as a teacher, and 
so, in California, I got her to take a number of very expensive 
lessons with a famous coach, a husky, wrinkled old-timer, with 
a harem of ball boys; he looked an awful wreck off the court, 
but now and then, when, in the course of a lesson, to keep up 
the exchange, he would put out as it were an exquisite spring 
blossom of a stroke and twang the ball back to his pupil, that 
divine delicacy of absolute power made me recall that, thirty 
years before, I had seen him in Cannes demolish the great 
Gobert! Until she began taking those lessons, I thought she 
would never learn the game. On this or that hotel court I 
would drill Lo, and try to relive the days when in a hot gale, a 
daze of dust, and queer lassitude, I fed ball after ball to gay, 
innocent, elegant Annabel (gleam of bracelet, pleated white 
skirt, black velvet hair band). With every word of persistent 
advice I would only augment Lo's sullen fury. To our games, 

148 



oddly enough, she preferred— at least, before -we reached Cali- 
fornia-formless pat ball approximations— more ball hunting 
than actual play — with a wispy, weak, wonderfully pretty in an 
ange gauche way coeval. A helpful spectator, I would go up to 
that other child, and inhale her faint musky fragrance as I 
touched her forearm and held her knobby wrist, and push this 
way or that her cool thigh to show her the back-hand stance. 
In the meantime, Lo, bending forward, would let her sunny- 
brown curls hang forward as she stuck her racket, like a crip- 
ple's stick, into the ground and emitted a tremendous ugh of 
disgust at my intrusion. I would leave them to their game and 
look on, comparing their bodies in motion, a sQk scarf round 
my throat; this was in south Arizona, I think — and the days 
had a lazy lining of warmth, and awlward Lo would slash at 
the ball and miss it, and curse, and send a simulacrum of a 
serve into the net, and show the wet glistening young down of 
her armpit as she brandished her racket in despair, and her 
even more insipid partner would dutifully rush out after every 
ball, and retrieve none; but both were enjoying themselves 
beautifully, and in clear ringing tones kept the exact score 
of their ineptitudes all the time. 

One day, I remember, I offered to bring them cold drinks 
from the hotel, and went up the gravel path, and came back 
with two tall glasses of pineapple juice, soda and ice; and then 
a sudden void within my chest made me stop as I saw that the 
tennis court was deserted. I stooped to set down the glasses on 
a bench and for some reason, with a kind of icy vividness, saw 
Charlotte's face in death, and I glanced around, and noticed 
Lo in white shorts receding through the speckled shadow of 
a garden path in the company of a tall man who carried two 
tennis rackets. I sprang after them, but as I was crashing 
through the shrubbery, I saw, in an alternate vision, as if life's 
course constantly branched, Lo, in slacks, and her companion, 
in shorts, trudging up and down a small weedy area, and 
beating bushes with their rackets in listless search for their 
last lost ball 

I itemize these sunny nothings mainly to prove to my judges 
that I did everything in my power to give my Lolita a really 
good time. How charming it was to see her, a child herself, 
showing another child some of her few accomplishments, such 
as for example a special way of jumping rope. With her right 
hand holding her left arm behind her untanned back, the lesser 
nymphet, a diaphanous darling, would be all eyes, as the pavo- 

1-49 



nine sun was all eyes on the gravel under the flowering trees, 
while in the midst of that oculate_ paradise, my freckled and 
raffish lass skipped, repeating the movements of so many others 
I had gloated over on the sun-shot, watered, damp-smelling 
sidewalks and ramparts of ancient Europe. Presently, she 
would hand the rope back to her little Spanish friend, and 
watch in her turn the repeated lesson, and brush away the hair 
from her brow, and fold her arms, and step on one toe with 
the other, or drop her hands loosely upon her still unflared 
hips, and I would satisfy myself that the damned staff had at 
last finished cleaning up our cottage; whereupon, flashing a 
smile to the shy, dark-haired page girl of my princess and 
thrusting my fatherly fingers deep into Lo’s hair from behind, 
and then gently but firmly clasping them around the nape of 
her neck, I would lead my reluctant pet to our small home for 
a quick connection before dinner. 

“Whose cat has scratched poor you?” A full-blown fleshy 
handsome woman of the repulsive type to which I was par- 
ticularly attractive might ask me at the “lodge,” during a table 
d’hdte dinner followed by dancing promised to Lo. This was 
one of the reasons why I tried to keep as far away from people 
as possible, while Lo, on the other hand, would do her utmost 
to draw as many potential witnesses into her orbit as she could. 

She would be, figuratively speaking, wagging her tiny tail, 
her whole behind in fact as little bitches do — while some grin- 
ning stranger accosted us and began a bright conversation with 
a comparative study of license plates. “Long way from home!” 
Inquisitive parents, in order to pump Lo about me, would sug- 
gest her going to a movie with their children. We had some 
close shaves. The waterfall nuisance pursued me of course in 
all our caravansaries. But I never realized how wafery their wall 
substance was until one evening, after I had loved too loudly, a 
neighbor's masculine cough filled the pause as clearly as mine 
would have done; and next morning as I was having breakfast 
at the milk bar (Lo was a late sleeper, and I liked to bring her a 
pot of hot coffee in bed), my neighbor of the eve, an elderly 
fool wearing plain glasses on his long virtuous nose and a con- 
vention badge on his lapel, somehow managed to rig up a con-, 
versation with me, in the course of which he inquired, if my 
missus was like his missus a rather reluctant get-upper when 
not on.the farm; and had not the hideous danger I was skirting 
almost suffocated me, I might have enjoyed the odd look of 
surprise on this thin-lipped weather-beaten face when I drily 

150 



answered that I was thank God a widower. 

How sweet it was to bring that coffee to her, and then deny 
it until she had done her morning duty. And I was such a 
thoughtful friend, such a passionate father, such a good pedi- 
atrician, attending to ah the wants of my little auburn bru- 
nette's bodyl My only grudge against nature was that I could 
not turn my Lolita inside out and apply voracious lips to her 
young matrix, her unknown heart, her nacreous liver, the sea- 
grapes of her lungs, her comely twin kidneys. On especially 
tropical afternoons, in the sticky closeness of the siesta, I liked 
the cool feel of armchair leather against my massive nakedness 
as I held her in my lap. There she would be, a typical kid 
picking her nose while engrossed in the lighter sections of a 
newspaper, as indifferent to my ecstasy as if it were something 
she had sat upon, a shoe, a doll, the handle of a tennis racket, 
and was too indolent to remove. Her eyes would follow the 
adventures of her favorite strip characters: there was one 
well-drawn sloppy bobby-soxer, with high cheekbones and 
angular gestures, that I was not above enjoying myself; sbe 
studied the photographic results of head-on collisions; she 
never doubted the reality of place, time and circumstance 
alleged to match the publicity pictures of naked-thighed beau- 
ties; and sbe was curiously fascinated by the photographs of 
local brides, some in full wedding apparel, holding bouquets 
and wearing glasses. 

A fly would settle and walk in the vicinity of her navel or 
explore her tender pale areolas. She tried to catch it in her fist 
(Charlotte's method) and then would turn to the column 
Let’s Explore Your Mind. 

"Let’s explore your mind. Would sex crimes he reduced if 
children obeyed a few don’ts? Don't play around public toi- 
lets. Don’t take candy or rides from strangers. If picked up, 
mark down the license of the car.” 

". . . and the brand of the candy,” I volunteered. 

She went on, her cheek (recedent) against mine (pursu- 
ant); and this was a good day, mark, O reader! 

"If you don’t have a pencil, but are old enough to read — ” 

“We,” I quip-quoted, "medieval mariners, have placed in 
this bottle — •” 

“If,” she repeated, "you don't have a pencil, hut are old 
enough to read and write — this is what the guy means, isn’t 
it, you dope — scratch the number somehow on the roadside.” 

"With your little claws, Lolita." 

151 




She had entered my world, umber and blacb Humberland, 
with. rash curiosity; she surveyed it with a shrug of amused dis- 
taste; and it seemed to me now that she was ready to turn away 
from it with something akin to plain repulsion. Never did she 
vibrate under my touch, and a strident “what d’you think you 
are doing?” was all I got for my pains. To the wonderland I 
had to offer, my fool preferred the corniest movies, the most 
cloying fudge. To think that between a Hamburger and a 
Humburger, she would — invariably, with icy precision — plump 
for the former. There is nothing more atrociously cruel than 
an adored child. Did I mention the name of that milk bar I 
visited a moment ago? It was of all things. The Frigid Queen. 
Smiling a little sadly, I dubbed her My Frigid Princess. She 
did not see the wistful joke. 

Oh, do not scowl at me, reader, I do not intend to convey 
the impression that I did not manage to be happy. Reader 
must understand that in the possession and thralldom of a 
nymphet the enchanted traveler stands, as it. were, beyond 
happiness. For there is no other bliss on earth comparable 
to that of fondling a nymphet It is hors concerns, that bliss, 
it belongs to another class, another plane of sensitivity. De- 
spite our tiffs, despite her nastiness, despite all the fuss and 
faces she made, and the vulgarity, and the danger, and the 
horrible hopelessness of it all, I still dwelled deep in my elected 
paradise — a paradise whose skies were the color of hell-flames 
— but still a paradise. 

The able psychiatrist who studies my case — and whom by 
now Dr. Humbert has plunged, I trust, into a state of leporine 
fascination — is no doubt anxious to have me take my Lolita to 
the seaside and have me find there, at last, the “gratification” 
of a lifetime urge, and release from the “subconscious” obses- 
sion of an incomplete childhood romance with the initial little 
Miss Lee. 

Well, comrade, let me tell you that I did look for a beach, 
though I also have to confess that by the time we reached its 
mirage of gray water, so many delights had already been grant- 
ed me by my traveling companion that the search for a 
Kingdom by the Sea, a Sublimated Riviera, or whatnot, far 

. 152 


from being the impulse of the subconscious, had become the 
rational pursuit of a purely theoretical thrill. The angels knew 
it, and arranged things accordingly. A visit to a plausible cove 
on the Atlantic side was completely messed up by foul weather. 
A thick damp sky, muddy waves, a sense of boundless but 
somehow' matter-of-fact mist — what could be further removed 
from the crisp charm, the sapphire occasion and rosy’ contin- 
gency of my Riviera romance? A couple of semitropical beaches 
on the Gulf, though bright enough, were starred and spat- 
tered by venomous beasties and swept by hurricane winds. 
Finally, on a Californian beach, facing the phantom of the 
Pacific, I hit upon some rather perverse privacy in a kind of 
a cave whence you could hear the shrieks of a lot of girl scouts 
taking their first surf bath on a separate part of the beach, 
behind rotting trees; but the fog was like a w’et blanket, and 
the sand was gritty and clammy, and Lo was all goosefiesh and 
grit, and for the first time in my life I had as little desire for her 
as for a manatee. Perhaps, my learned readers may perk up if 
I tell them that evCn had we discovered a piece of sympathetic 
seaside somewhere, it would have come too late, since my real 
liberation had occurred much earlier: at the moment, in point 
of feet, when Annabel Haze, alias Dolores Lee, alias Loleeta, 
had appeared to me, golden and brown, kneeling, looking up, 
on that shoddy veranda, in a kind of fictitious, dishonest, but 
eminently satisfactory' seaside arrangement {although there 
was nothing but a second-rate lake in the neighborhood). 

So much for those special sensations, influenced, if not ac- 
tually brought about, by the tenets of modem psychiatry. Con- 
sequently, I turned away — I headed my Lolita away — from 
beaches which were either too bleak when lone, or too pop- 
ulous when ablaze. However, in recollection, I suppose, of my 
hopeless hauntings of public parks in Europe, I was still keenly 
interested in outdoor activities and desirous of finding suitable 
playgrounds in the open where I had suffered such shameful 
privations. Here, too, I was to be thwarted. The disappoint- 
ment I must now register (as I gently grade my story into an 
expression of the continuous risk and dread that ran through 
my bliss) should in no wise reflect on the lyrical, epic, tragic 
but never Arcadian American wilds. They arc beautiful, heart- 
rcndingly beautiful, those wilds, with a quality of wide-eyed, 
unsung, innocent surrender that my lacquered, toy-bright 
Swiss villages and exhaustively Lauded Alps no longer possess. 
Innumerable lovers have clipped and kissed on the trim turf 

153 



of old-world mountainsides, on the innerspring moss, by a 
handy, hygienic rill, on rustic benches under the initialed 
oaks, and in so many cabanes in so many beech forests. But 
. in the Wilds of America the open-air lover will not find it 
easy to indulge in the most ancient of all crimes and pastimes. 
Poisonous plants bum his sweetheart’s buttocks, nameless in- 
sects sting his; sharp items of the forest floor prick his knees, 
insects .hers; and all around there abides a sustained rustle 
of potential snakes — que dis-je, of semi-extinct dragons!— 
while the crablike seeds of ferocious flowers cling, in a hideous 
green crust, to gartered black sock and sloppy wbite sock alike. 

I am exaggerating a little. One summer noon, just below 
timberline, ' where heavenly-hued blossoms that I would fain 
call larkspur crowded all along a purly mountain brook, we did 
find, Lolita and I, a secluded romantic spot, a hundred feet 
or so above the pass where we had left our car. The slope 
seemed untrodden. A last panting pine was taking a well- 
earned breather on the rock it had reached. A marmot whistled 
at us and withdrew. Beneath the lap-robe I had spread for Lo, 
dry flowers crepitated softly. Venus came and went. The jagged 
cliff crowning the upper talus and a tangle of shrubs growing 
below us seemed to offer us protection from sun and man 
alike. Alas, I had not reckoned with a faint side trail that 
curled up in cagey fashion among the shrubs and rocks a few 
feet from us. 

It was then that we came closer to detection than ever 
before, and no wonder the experience curbed forever my yearn- 
ing for rural amours. 

I remember the operation was over, all over, and she was 
weeping in my arms; — a salutory storm of sobs after one of the 
fits of moodiness that had become so frequent with her in the 
course of that otherwise admirable year! I had just retracted 
some silly promise she had forced me to make in a moment of 
blind impatient passion, and there she was sprawling and sob- 
bing, and pinching my caressing hand, and I was laughing 
happily, and the atrocious, unbelievable, unbearable, and, I 
suspect, eternal horror that I know now was still but a dot. of 
blackness in the blue of my bliss; and so we lay, when with 
one of those jolts that have ended by knocking my poor heart 
out of its groove, I met the unblinking dark eyes of two strange 
and beautiful children, faunlet and nymphet, whom their 
identical flat dark hair and bloodless cheeks proclaimed siblings 
if not twins. They stood crouching and gaping at us, both in 
blue playsuits, blending with the mountain blossoms. I 

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plucked at the lap-robe for desperate concealment— and with- 
in the same instant, something. that looked like a polka-dotted 
pushball among the undergrowth a few paces away, went into 
a turning motion which was transformed into the gradually 
rising figure of a stout lady with a raven-black bob, who auto- 
matically added a wild lily to her bouquet, while -staring over 
her shoulder at us from behind her lovely carved bluestone 
children. 

Now that I have an altogether, different mess on my con- 
science, I know' that I am a courageous man, but in those 
days I was not aware of it, and I remember being surprised by 
my own coolness. With the quiet murmured order one gives 
a sweatstained distracted cringing trained animal even in the 
worst of plights (what mad hope or hate makes the young 
beast’s flanks pulsate, wbat black stars pierce the heart of the 
tamerl), I made Lo get up, and we decorously walked, and then 
indecorously scuttled down to the car. Behind it a nifty station 
wagon was parked, and a handsome Assyrian with a little blue- 
black beard, un monsieur tr£s bien, in silk shirt and magenta 
slacks, presumably the corpulent botanist’s husband, was grave- 
ly taking the picture of a signboard giving the altitude of the 
pass. It was well over 10,000 feet and I was quite out of 
breath; and with a scrunch and a skid we drove off, Lo still 
struggling with her clothes and swearing at me in language 
that I never dreamed little girls could know, let alone use. 

There were other unpleasant incidents. There was the movie 
theatre once, for example. Lo at the time still had for the 
cinema a veritable passion (it was to decline into tepid con- 
descension during her second high school year) . We took in, 
voluptuously and indiscriminately, oh, I don’t know-, one 
hundred and fifty or two hundred programs during that one 
year, and during some of the denser periods of movie-going 
we saw many of the news-reels up to a half-a-dozen times since 
the same weekly one went with different main pictures and 
pursued us from town to town. Her favorite kinds were, in this 
order: musicals, underworlders, westerners. In the first, real 
singers and dancers had unreal stage careers in an essentially 
grief-proof sphere of existence wherefrom death and truth were 
banned, and where, at the end, white-haired, dewy-eyed, tech- 
nically deathless, the initially reluctant father of a show-crazy 
■-girl always finished by applauding ber apotheosis on fabulous 
'■ Broadway. The underworld was a world apart: there, heroic 
newspapermen were tortured, telephone bills ran to billions, 
and, in a robust atmosphere of incompetent marksmanship 

155 



villains were chased through sewers and storehouses by patho- 
logically fearless cops (I was to give them less exercise) . Final- 
ly there was the mahogany landscape, the florid-faced, blue-eyed 
roughriders, the prim pretty schoolteacher arriving in Roaring 
Gulch, the rearing hope, the spectacular stampede, the pistol 
thrust through the shivered windowpane, the stupendous fist 
fight, the crashing mountain of dusty old-fashioned furniture, 
the table used as a weapon, the timely somersault, the pinned 
hand still groping for the dropped bowie knife, the grunt, the 
sweet crash of fist against chin, the kick in the belly, the flying 
tackle; and immediately after a plethora of pain that would 
have hospitalized a Hercules (I should know by now), nothing 
to show but the rather becoming bruise on the bronzed cheek 
of the warmed-up hero embracing his gorgeous frontier bride. I 
remember one matinee in a small airless theatre crammed with 
children and reeking with the hot breath of popcorn. The 
moon was yellow above the neckerchiefed crooner, and his 
finger was on his strumstring, and his foot was on a pine log, 
and I had innocently encircled Lo's shoulder and approached 
my jawbone to her temple, when two harpies behind us started 
muttering the queerest things — I do not know if I understood 
aright, but what I thought I did, made me withdraw my gentle 
hand, and of course the rest of the show was fog to me. 

Another jolt I remember is connected with a little burg we 
were traversing at night, during our return journey. Some 
twenty miles earlier I had happened to tell her that day the 
school she would attend at Beardsley was a rather high-class, 
non-coeducational one, with no modem nonsense, whereupon 
Lo treated me to one of those furious harangues of hers where 
entreaty and insult, self-assertion and double talk, vicious vul- 
garity and childish despair, were interwoven in an exasperating 
semblance of logic which prompted a semblance of explana- 
tion from me. Enmeshed in her wild words (swell chance . . . 

I’d be a sap if I took your opinion seriously . . . Stinker . . . 
You can’t boss me ... I despise you . . - and so forth), I 
drove through the slumbering town at a fifty-mile-per-hour 
pace in continuance of my smooth highway swoosh, and a 
twosome of patrolmen put their spotlight on the car,^ and 
told me to pull over. I shushed Lo who was automatically 
raving on. The men peered at her and me with malevolent 
curiosity. Suddenly all dimples, she beamed sweetly at them, 
as she never did at my orchideous masculinity; for, in a 
sense, my Lo was even more scared of the law than I — and 
when the land officers pardoned us and servilely we crawled 


on, her eyelids dosed and fluttered as she mimicked limp 
prostration. _ 

At this point I have a curious confession to make. You win 
laugh — but really and truly I somehow never man aged to End 
out quite exactly what the legal situation was. I do not know 
it yet Oh, I have learned a few odds and ends. Alabama pro- 
hibits a guardian from changing the ward’s residence without 
an order of the court; Minnesota, to whom I take off my hat, 
provides that when a relative assumes permanent care and 
custody of any child under fourteen, the authority of a court 
does not come into play. Query: is the stepfather of a gaspingly 
adorable pubescent pet, a stepfather of only one month’s 
standing, a neurotic widower of mature years and small but 
independent means, with the parapets of Europe, a divorce 
and a few madhouses behind him, is he to be considered a 
relative, and thus a natural guardian? And if not, must I, and 
could I reasonably dare notify some Welfare Board and file a 
petition (how do you file a petition?), and have a court’s 
agent investigate meek, fishy me and dangerous Dolores Haze?' 
The many books on marriage, rape, adoption and so on, that 
I guiltily consulted at the public libraries of big and small 
towns, told me nothing beyond darkly insinuating that the 
state is the super-guardian of minor children. Pilvin and 
Zapel, if I remember their names right, in an impressive vol- 
ume on the legal side of marriage, completely ignored step- 
fathers with motherless girls on their hands and knees. My 
best friend, a social sendee monograph (Chicago, 1936), which 
was dug out for me at great pains from a dusty storage recess 
by an innocent old spinster, said “There is no principle that 
every minor must hare a guardian; the court is passive and 
enters the fray only when the child’s situation becomes con- 
spicuously perilous.” A guardian, I concluded, was appointed 
only when he expressed his solemn and formal desire; but 
months might elapse before he was given notice to appear at 
a hearing and grow his pair of gray wings, and in the meantime 
the fair daemon child was legally left to her own derices which, 
after all, was the case of Dolores Haze. Then came the hearing. 
A few questions from the bench, a few reassuring answers from 
the attorney, a smile, a nod, a light drizzle outside, and the 
appointment was made. And still I dared not Keep away, be a 
mouse, curl up in your hole. Courts became extravagantly ac- 
tive only when there was some monetary question involved: 
two greedy guardians, a robbed orphan, a third, still greedier, 
party. But here all was in perfect order, an inventory' had been 

157 



made, and her mother’s small property was waiting untouched 
for Dolores Haze to grow up. The best policy seemed to be to 
refrain from any application. Or would some busybody, some 
Humane Society, butt in if I kept too quiet? 

Friend Farlow, who was a lawyer of sorts and ought to have 
been able to give me some solid advice, was too much occupied 
with Jean's cancer to do anything more than what he had 
promised — namely, to look after Charlotte’s meager estate 
while I recovered very gradually from the shock of her death. I 
had conditioned him into believing Dolores was my natural 
child, and so could not expect him to bother his head about 
the situation. I am, as the reader must have gathered by now, a 
poor businessman; but neither ignorance nor indolence should 
have prevented me from seeking professional advice elsewhere. 
What stopped me was the awful feeling that if I meddled with 
fate in any way and tried to rationalize her fantastic gift, that 
gift would be snatched away like that palace on the mountain 
top in the Oriental tale which vanished whenever a prospective 
owner asked its custodian how come a strip of sunset sky was 
clearly visible from afar between black rock and foundation. 

I decided that at Beardsley (the site of Beardsley College for 
Women) I would have access to works of reference that I had 
not yet been able to study, such as Woemer's Treatise "On 
the American Law of Guardianship" and certain United States 
Children’s Bureau Publications. I also decided that anything 
was better for Lo than the demoralizing idleness in which she 
lived. I could persuade her to do so many things — their list 
might stupefy a professional educator; but no matter how I 
pleaded or stormed, I could never make her read any other 
book than the so-called comic books or stories in magazines 
for American females. Any literature a peg higher smacked to 
her of school, and though theoretically willing to enjoy A 
Girl of the Limbeilost or the Arabian Nights, or Little Wom- 
en , she was quite sure she would not fritter away her "vaca- 
tion” on such highbrow reading matter. 

I now think it was a great mistake to move east again and 
have her go to that private school in Beardsley, instead of 
somehow scrambling across the Mexican border while the 
scrambling was good so as to lie low for a couple of years in 
subtropical bliss until I could safely marry my little Creole: for 
I must confess that depending on the condition of my glands 
and ganglia, I could switch in the course of the same day 
from one pole of insanity to the other — from the thought that 
around 1950 I would have to get rid somehow of a difficult 

158. 


have net 

eventually a ny®P who wouldbemgbt ^ indeed, *® 

Lolita the Sewn^ ^ daDS la force ^ enough to 

ssjssS-i 

sStPfw-* t— ' °s^> ? 

In the days ot tnac > t was a ridiculous ^ biblical 

•S& » w£2sK*3a« ^JESSES- *» 

Lest- 1 read and r<m~a nangbter, which * 6° de i^e vol- 

titlc Know Your Own thirteenth b*h Y> ^dersen’s 

« at °^fS* aid ** S^’dSs* e® e ° f 

•window to he diner, or P^y ^ ^ other motor- 

hearty meal m - n g, ot silently sta ^ b lood-bespattered 

SftSS* d^gyfiKi'SSai (JESS’S 

® exart W random «► 

casions, 1 seemed Was, perhaps, go ty Would 

0{ there being f^^nce of the to some 

there, but also by *epms myself semen ^ X 

desire to get stripes *ouW ? of French at 

patterned surface ■ ™ ^J, w in the d^art™^ 1 ° ^booh in 
thought ofaman 0( j enough to t0 deliver 

Beardsley Co % h "tSpted to get ^^Ihave once 
his classes and had V 0 { doing so, since, few 

» tel®. iW^f these OTtaons, ^ 

Is - ta * 

which my nymphets am ^ 



label, a background, and a simulacrum, and, as presently will 
become clear, there was a reason, a rather zany reason, why 
old Gaston Godin’s company would be particularly safe. 

Finally, there was the money question. My income was 
cracking under the strain of our joy-ride. True, I clung to the 
cheaper motor courts; but every now and then, there would be 
a loud hotel de luxe, or a pretentious dude ranch, to mutilate 
•our budget; staggering sums, moreover, were expended on 
• sightseeing and Lo's clothes, and the old Haze bus, although a 
still vigorous and very devoted machine, necessitated numerous 
minor and major repairs. In one of our strip maps that has 
happened to survive among the papers which the authorities 
have so kindly allowed me to use for the purpose of writing my 
statement, I find some jottings that help me compute the fol- 
lowing. During that extravagant year 1947-1948, August to 
August, lodgings and food cost us around 5,500 dollars; gas, oil 
and repairs, 1,234, and .various extras almost as much; so that 
during about 150 days of actual motion (we covered about 

27.000 milesl ) plus some 200 days of interpolated standstills, 
this modest rentier spent around 8,000 dollars, or better say 

10.000 because, unpractical as I am, I have surely forgotten a 
number of items. 

And so we rolled East I more devastated than braced with 
the satisfaction of my passion, and she glowing with health, 
her bi-iliac garland still as brief as a lad’s although she had add- 
ed two inches to her stature and eight pounds to hex weight. 
We had been everywhere. We had really seen nothing. And I 
catch myself thinking today that our long journey had only 
defiled with a sinuous trail of slime the lovely, trustful, dreamy, 
enormous country that by then, in retrospect, was no more 
to us than a collection of dog-eared maps, ruined tour books, 
old tires, and her sobs in the night — every night, every night — 
the moment I feigned sleep. 


4 


When through decorations of light and shade, we drove np 
to 14 Thayer Street, a grave little lad met us with the keys and 

160 


a note from Gaston -who had rented the honse for us. My Lo, 
without granting her new surroundings one glance, unseeingly 
turned on the radio to which instinct led her and lay down on 
the living room sofa with a hatch of old magazines which in 
the same precise and blind manner she landed by dipping her 
hand into the nether anatomy of a lamp table. 

I really did not mind where to dwell provided I could loch 
my Lolita up somewhere; but I had, I suppose, in the course 
of my correspondence with vague Gaston, vaguely visualized a 
house of ivied brick. Actually the place bore a dejected resem- 
blance to the Haze home (a mere 400 miles distant) : it was 
the same sort of dull gray frame affair with a shingled roof and 
dull green drill awnings; and the rooms, though smaller and 
furnished in a more consistent plush-and-plate style, were ar- 
ranged in much the same order. My study turned out to he, 
however, a much larger room, lined from floor to ceiling with 
some two thousand hooks on chemistry which my landlord 
(on sabbatical leave for the time being) taught at Beardsley 
College. 

I had hoped Beardsley School for girls, an expensive day 
school, with lunch thrown in and a glamorous gymnasium, 
would, while cultivating all those young bodies, provide some 
formal education for their minds as well. Gaston Godin, who 
wa s seldom right in his judgment of American habitus, had 
warned me that the institution might turn out to be one of 
those where girls are taught, as he put it with a foreigner's love 
for such things: "not to spell very weB, but to smell very well." 
I don’t think they achieved even that 

At my first interview with headmistress Pratt, she approved 
of my child’s "nice blue eyes” (blue! Lolita!) and of my own 
friendship with that "French genius’' (a genius! Gaston!) — 
and then, having turned Dolly over to a bliss Cormorant, she 
wrinkled her brow in a kind of recueillcment and said: 

"We are not so much concerned, Mr. Humbird, with hav- 
ing our students become bookworms or be able to reel off all 
the capitals of Europe which nobody knows anyway, or learn 
by heart the dates of forgotten battles. What we are concerned 
with is the adjustment of the child to group life. This is why 
we stress the four D’s: Dramatics, Dance, Debating and Dat- 
ing. Wc arc confronted by certain facts. Your delightful DoTly 
will presently enter an age group where dates, dating, date 
dress, date book, date etiquette, mean as much to her as say, 
business, business connections, business success, mean to you, 

161 



or as much as [smiling] the happiness of my girls means to 
me. Dorothy Humbird is already involved in a whole system of 
social life which consists, whether we like it or not, of hot-dog 
stands, comer drugstores, malts and cokes, movies, square- 
dancing, blanket parties On beaches, and even hair-firing par- 
ties! Naturally at Beardsley School we disapprove of some of 
these activities; and we rechannel others into more construc- 
tive directions. But we do try to turn - our backs on the fog 
and squarely face the sunshine. To put it briefly, while adopt- 
ing certain teaching techniques, we are more interested in 
communication than in composition. That is, with due respect 
to Shakespeare and others, we want our girls to communicate 
freely with the live world around them rather than plunge 
into musty old books. We are still groping perhaps, but we 
grope intelligently, like a gynecologist feeling a tumor. We 
think. Dr. Humburg, in organismal and organizational terms. 
We have done away with the mass of irrelevant topics that 
have traditionally been presented to young girls, leaving no 
place, in former days, for the knowledges -and the skills, and 
the attitudes they will need in managing their lives and — as 
the cynic might add — the lives of their husbands. Mr. Hum- 
berson, let us put it this way: the position of a star is im- 
portant, but the most practical spot for an icebox in the 
kitchen may be even more important to the budding house- 
wife. You say. that all you expect a child to obtain from school 
is a sound education. But what do we mean by education? In 
the old days it was in the main a verbal phenomenon; I 
mean, you could have a child leam by heart a good encyclo- 
pedia and he or she would know as much as or more than a 
school could offer. Dr. Hummer, do you realize that for the 
modem pre-adolescent child, medievd dates are of less vital 
value than weekend ones [twinkle]? — to repeat a pun that I 
heard the Beardsley college psychoanalyst permit herself the 
other day. We live not only in a world of thoughts, but also in 
a world of things. Words without experience are meaningless. 
What on earth can Dorothy Hummerson care for Greece and 
the Orient with their harems and slaves?” 

This program rather appalled me, but I spoke to two intel- 
ligent ladies who had been connected with the school, and they 
affirmed that the girls did quite a bit of sound reading and that 
the “communication’' line was more or less ballyhoo aimed at, 
giving old-fashioned Beardsley School a financially remunera- 

162 



live modem touch, though actually it remained as prim as a 
prawn. 

Another reason attracting me to that particular school may 
seem funny to some readers, but it was very important to me, 
for that is die way I am made. Across our street, exactly in front 
of our house, there was, I noticed, a gap of weedy wasteland, 
with some colorful bushes and a pile of bricks and a few scat- 
tered planks, and the foam of shabby mauve and chrome 
autumn roadside flowers; and through that gap you could see a 
shimmery section of School Rd., running parallel to our 
Thayer St, and immediately beyond that die playground of 
the school. Apart from the psychological comfort this general 
arrangement should afford me by keeping Dolly's day adjacent 
to mine, I immediately foresaw the pleasure I would have in 
distinguishing from my study-bedroom, by means of powerful 
binoculars, the statistically inevitable percentage of nymphets 
among the other girl children playing around Dolly during 
recess; unfortunately, on the very first day of school, workmen 
arrived and put up a fence some way down the gap, and in no 
time a construction of tawny wood maliciously arose beyond 
that fence utterly blocking my magic vista; and as soon as 
they had erected a sufficient amount of material to spoil 
everything, those absurd builders suspended their work and 
never appeared again. 


5 


Ik a. street called Thayer Street, in the residential green, fawn 
and golden of a mellow academic townlet, one was bound 
to have a few amiable fine-dayeis yelping at you. I prided my- 
self on the exact temperature of my relations with them: never 
rude, always aloof. My west-door neighbor, who might have 
been a businessman or a college teacher, or both, would speak 
to me once in a while as he barbered some late garden blooms 
or watered his car, or, at a later date, defrosted his driveway (I 
don’t mind if these verbs are all wrong), but my brief grunts, 
just sufficiently articulate to sound like conventional assents or 
intenogath-e pause-fillers, precluded any evolution toward 

163 


chumminess. Of the two houses flanking the bit of scrubby 
waste opposite, one was closed, and the other contained two 
professors of English, tweedy and short-haired Miss Lester and 
fadedly feminine Miss Fabian, whose only subject of brief 
sidewalk conversation with me was (God bless their tactl) lie 
young loveliness of my daughter and the naive charm of Gas- 
ton Godin. My east-door neighbor was by far the most dan- 
gerous one, a sharp-nosed stock character whose late brother 
had been attached to. the College as Superintendent of Build- 
ings and Grounds. I remember her waylaying -Dolly, while I 
stood at the living-room window, feverishly awaiting my dar- 
ling's return from school. The odious spinster, trying to con- 
ceal her morbid inquisitiveness under a mask of dulcet good- 
will, stood leaning on her slim umbrella (the sleet had just 
stopped, a cold wet sun had sidled out) , and Dolly, her brown 
coaL open despite the raw weather, her structural heap of 
books pressed against her stomach, her knees showing pink 
above her clumsy wellingtons, a sheepish frightened little smile ' 
flitting over and off her snub-nosed face, which — owing per- 
haps to the pale wintry light — looked almost plain, in a rustic, 
German, magdlein-like way, as she stood there and dealt with 
Miss East’s questions “And where is your mother, my dear? 
And what is your poor father's occupation? And where did 
you live before?” Another time the loathsome creature ac- 
costed me with a welcoming whine — but I evaded her; and 
a few days later there came from her a note in a blue-margined 
envelope, a nice mixture of poison and treacle, suggesting 
Dolly come over on a Sunday and curl up in a chair to look 
through the “loads ofbeautiful books my dear mother gave me 
when I was a child, instead of having the radio on at full 
blast till all hours of the night” 

I had also to be careful in regard to a Mrs. Holigan, a char- 
woman and cook of sorts whom I had inherited with the 
vacuum cleaner from the previous tenants. Dolly got lunch at 
school, so that this was no trouble, and I had become adept at 
providing her with a big breakfast and warming up the dinner 
that Mrs. Holigan prepared before leaving. That kindly and 
harmless woman had, thank God, a rather bleary eye that 
missed details, and I had become a great expert in bedmaking; 
but still I was continuously obsessed by the feeling that some 
fatal stain had been left somewhere, or that, on the rare occa- 
sions where Holigan's presence happened to coincide with 
Lo’s, simple Lo might succumb to buxom sympathy in the 

164 









water pipes. Upstairs he had a studio — he painted a little, the 
old fraud. He had decorated its sloping •wall (it was really not 
more than a garret) with large photographs of pensive Andr6 
Gide, Tchaikovsky, Norman Douglas, two other well-known 
English writers, Nijinsky (all thighs and fig leaves), Harold D. 
Doublename (a misty-eyed left-wing professor of a Midwest- 
ern university) and Marcel Proust. Ah these poor people 
seemed about to fall on you from their inclined plane. He 
had also an album with snapshots of ah the Jackies and 
Dickies of the neighborhood, and when I happened to thumb 
through it and make some casual remark, Gaston would purse 
his fat lips and murmur with a wistful pout “Oui, 3s sont 
gentils.” His brown eyes would roam around the various 
sentimental and artistic bric-a-brac present, and his own banal 
toiles (the conventionally primitive eyes, sliced guitars, blue 
nipples and geometrical designs of the day), and with a vague 
gesture toward a painted wooden bowl or veined vase, he 
would say “Pienez done one de ces poizes. La bonne dame 
tTen face m’en oflte plus que je n’en peux savourer.” Or: 
“Mississe TaiUe Lore vrent de me dormer ces dahlias, belles 
fleurs que fexdcre.” (Somber, sad, full of world-weariness.) 

For obvious reasons, I preferred my house to his for the 
games of chess we had two or three times weekly. He looked 
like some old battered idol as he sat with his pudgy hands in 
his lap and stared at the board as if it were a corpse. Wheezing 
he would meditate for ten minutes — then make a losing move. 
Or the good man, after even more thought, might utter: 
Au roil with a slow old-dog woof that had a gargling sound 
at the back of it which made his jowls wabble; and then he 
would lift his circumflex eyebrows with a deep sigh as I 
pointed out to him that he was in check himself. 

Sometimes, from where we sat in my cold study I could 
hear Lo's bare feet practicing dance techniques in the living 
room downstairs; but Gaston's outgoing senses were com- 
fortably dulled, and he remained unaware of those naked 
rhythms — and-one, and-two, and-one, and-two, weight trans- 
ferred on a straight right leg, leg up out to the side, and-one, 
and-two, and only when she started jumping, opening her legs 
at the height of the jump, and flexing one leg, and extending 
the other, and flying, and landing on her toes — only then did 
my pale, pompous, morose opponent rub his head or cheek 
as if confusing those distant thuds with the awful stabs of my 
formidable Queen. 

166 




Sometimes Lola would slouch in while we pondered the 
board — and it was every time a treat to see Gaston, his 
elephant eye still fixed on his pieces, ceremoniously rise to 
shake hands with her, and forthwith release her limp fingers, 
and without looking once at her, descend again into his chair 
to topple into the trap I had laid for him. One day around 
Christmas, after I had not seen him for a fortnight or so, 
he asked me “Et toutes vos GEettes, elles vont bien?” from 
which it became evident to me that he had multiplied my 
unique Lolita by the number of sartorial categories his down- 
cast moody eye had glimpsed during a whole series of her 
appearances: blue jeans, a skirt, shorts, a quilted robe. 

I am loath to dwell so long on the poor fellow I * * * * * 7 (sadly 
enough, a year later, during a voyage to Europe, from which 
he did not return, he got involved in a sale historic, in Naples 
of all places!). I w'ould have hardly alluded to him at all had 
not his Beardsley existence had such a queer bearing on my 
case. I need him for my defense. There he was devoid of any 
talent whatsoever, a mediocre teacher, a worthless scholar, 
a glum repulsive fat old invert, highly contemptuous of the 
American way of life, triumphantly ignorant of the English 
language — there he was in priggish New England, crooned 
over by the old and caressed by the young — oh, having a 
grand time and fooling everybody; and here was I. 


7 


I am now faced with the distasteful task of recording a 

definite drop in Lolita’s morals. If her share in the ardois she 

kindled had never amounted to much, neither had pure lucre 

ever come to the fore. But I was weak, I was not wise, my 
school-girl nymphet had me in thrall. With the human ele- 

ment dwindling, the passion, the tenderness, and the torture 
only increased; and of this she took advantage. 

Her weekly allowance, paid to her under condition she 
fulfill her basic obligations, was twenty one cents at the start 
of the Beardsley era — and went up to one dollar five before 

its end. This was a more than generous arrangement seeing 
she constantly received from me all kinds of small presents 

167 



and had for the asking any sweetmeat or movie under the 
moon — although, of course, I might fondly demand an addi- 
tional kiss, or even a whole collection of assorted caresses, 
when I knew she coveted very badly some item of juvenile 
amusement. She was, however, not easy to deal with. Only 
.very listlessly did she earn her three pennies — or three nickels 
—per day; and she proved to be a cruel negotiator whenever 
it was in her power to deny me certain life-wrecking, strange, 
slow paradisal philters without which I could not live more 
than a few days in a row, and which, because of the very 
nature of love’s languor, I could not obtain by force. Know- 
ing the magic and might of her own soft mouth, she man- 
aged — during one school yearl — to raise the bonus price of a 
fancy embrace to three, and even four bucks, O Reader! Laugh 
not, as you imagine me, on the very rack of joy noisily emitting 
dimes and quarters, and great big silver dollars like some 
sonorous, jingly and wholly demented machine vomiting 
riches; and in the margin of that leaping epilepsy she would 
firmly clutch a handful of coins in her little fist, which, any- - 
way, I used to pry open afterwards unless she gave me the slip, 
scrambling away to hide her loot. And just as every other day 
I would cruise all around the school area and on comatose 
feet visit drugstores, and peer into foggy lanes, and listen to 
receding girl laughter in between my heart throbs and the 
felling leaves, so every now and then I would burgle her 
room and scrutinize tom papexs in the wastebasket with the 
painted roses, and look under the pillow of the virginal bed I 
had just made myself. Once I found eight one-dollar notes in 
one of her books (fittingly — Treasure Island), and once a 
hole in the wall behind Whistler’s Mother yielded as much as 
twenty-four dollars and some change — say twenty-four sixty — • 
which I quietly removed, upon which, next day, she accused, 
to my face, honest Mrs.-, Holigan of being a filthy thief. 
Eventually, she lived up to her I.Q. by finding a safer hoard- 
ing place which I never discovered; but by that time I had 
brought prices down drastically by haring her earn the hard 
and nauseous way permission to participate in the school’s 
theatrical program; because what I feared most was not that 
she might min me, but that she might accumulate sufficient 
cash to mn away. I believe the poor fierce-eyed child had 
figured out that with a mere fifty dollars in her purse she 
might somehow reach Broadway or Hollywood — or the foul 
kitchen of a diner (Help Wanted) in a dismal ex-prairie state, 


r 


168 


t4 


with the wind blowing, and the stars blinking, and the cars, 
and the bars, and the barmen, and everything soiled, tom, 
dead- 


8 


I did mt best, your Honor, to tackle the problem of boys. 
Oh, I used even "to read in the Beardsley Star a so-called Col- 
umn for Teens, to find out how to behavel 

A word to fathers. Don’t frighten ass-ay daughter’s friend. 
Maybe it is a bit hard for you to realize that now- the boys 
are finding her attractive. To you she is stall a little girl. To 
the boys she’s charming and fun, lovely and gay. The}- like 
her. Today you clinch big deals in an executive’s office, but 
yesterday you were just high-scbool Jim carrying Jane’s 
school books. Remember? Don’t you want your daughter, 
now that her turn has come, to be happy in the admiration 
and company of boys she likes? Don’t you want them to 
have wholesome fun together? 

Wholesome fun? Good Lord! 

Why not treat the young fellows as guests in your house? 
Why not make conversation with them? Draw them out, 
make them laugh and feel at case? 

Welcome, fellow-, to this bordello. 

If she breaks the rules don’t explode out loud in front of 
her partner in crime. Let hex take the brunt of your dis- 
pleasure in private. And stop making the boys fed she's 
the daughter of an old ogre. 

First of all the old ogre drew up a list under “absolutely 
forbidden” and another under “reluctantly allowed." Abso- 
lutely forbidden were dates, single or double or triple — the 
next step being of course mass orgy. She might visit 3 candy 
bat with her girl friends, and there gigglc-cbat with occasional 

169 



young males, while I waited m the car at a discreet distance; 
and I promised her that if her group were invited by a socially 
acceptable group in Butler’s Academy for Boys for their an- 
nual ball (heavily chaperoned, of course), I might consider 
the question whether a girl of fourteen can don her first 
"formal” (a land of gown that makes thin-armed teen-agers 
look like flamingoes) . Moreover, I promised her to throw a 
party at our house to which she would be allowed to invite her 
prettier girl friends and the nicer boys she would have met by 
that time at the Butler dance. But I was quite positive that as 
long as my regime lasted she would never, never be permitted 
to go with a youngster in rut to a movie, or neck in a car, 
or go to boy-girl parties at the houses of schoolmates, or in- 
dulge out of my earshot in boy-girl telephone conversations, 
even if "only discussing his relations with a friend of mine.” 

Lo was enraged by all this — called me a lousy crook and 
worse — and I would probably have lost my temper had I not 
soon discovered, to my sweetest relief, that what really angered 
her was my depriving her not of a specific satisfaction but of a 
general right I was impinging, you see, on the conventional 
program, the stock pastimes, the "things that are done,” the 
routine of youth; for there is nothing more conservative than 
a child, especially a girl-child, be she the most auburn and 
russet, the most mythopoeic nymphet in October’s orchard- 
haze. 

Do not misunderstand me. I cannot be absolutely certain 
that in the course of the winter she did not manage to have, 
in a casual way, improper contacts with unknown young fel- 
lows; of course, no matter how closely I controlled her leisure/ 
there would constantly occur unaccounted-for time leaks with 
over-elaborate explanations to stop them up in retrospect; 
of course, my jealousy would constantly catch its jagged claw 
in the fine fabrics of nymphet falsity; but I did definitely 
feel — -and can now vouchsafe for the accuracy of my feeling — 
that there was no reason for serious alarm. I felt that way not 
because I never once discovered any palpable hard young 
throat to crush among the masculine mutes that flickered 
somewhere in the background; but because it was to me "over- 
whelmingly obvious” (a favorite expression with my aunt 
Sybil) that all varieties of high school boys — from 'the per- 
spiring nincompoop whom "holding hands” thrills, to the 
self-sufficient rapist with pustules and a souped-up car — 
equally bored my sophisticated young mistress. “AD this noise 

170 



about boys gags, me,” she had scrawled on the inside of a 
schoolbook, and underneath, in Mona’s hand (Mona is due 
any minute now) /there v&s the sly c^uip- 'What about Rig- 

ger?” (due too). , - 

Faceless, then, are the' chappies I happened to see in her 
company. There was for instance Red Sweater who one day, 
the day we had the first snow — saw her home; from the parlor 
window I observed them talking near our porch. She wore 
her first cloth coat with a fur collar; there was a small brown 
cap on my favorite hairdo — the fringe in front and the swirl 
at the sides and the natural curls at the back — and her damp- 
dark moccasins and white socks were more sloppy than ever. 
She pressed as usual her books to her chest while speaking or 
listening, and her feet gestured all the time: she would stand 
on her left instep with her right toe, remove it backward, 
cross her feet, rock slightly, sketch a few steps, and then start 
the series all over again. There was Windbreaker who talked 
to her in front of a restaurant one Sunday afternoon while his 
mother and sister attempted to walk me away for a chat; 
I dragged along and looked back at my only love. She had 
developed more than one conventional mannerism, such as 
the polite adolescent way of showing one is literally "doubled 
up” with laughter by inclining one’s head, and so (as she 
sensed my call), still feigning helpless merriment, she walked 
backward a couple of steps, and then faced about, and walked 
toward me with a fading smile. On the other hand, I greatly 
liked — perhaps because it reminded me of her first unfor- 
gettable confession — her trick of sighing "oh dear!” in humor- 
ous wistful submission to fate, or emitting a long "no-o” in a 
deep almost growling undertone when the blow r of fate had 
actually fallen. Above ah — since we are speaking of movement 
and youth — I liked to see her spinning up and down Thayer 
Street on hex beautiful young bicycle: rising on the pedals 
to work on them lustily, then sinking back in languid posture 
while the speed wore itself oft; and then she would stop at our 
mailbox and, still astride, would Sip through a magazine she 
found there, and put it back, and press her tongue to one side 
of her uppcrlip and push off with her foot, and again sprint 
through pale shade and sun. 

On the whole she seemed to me better adapted to her sur- 
roundings than I had hoped she would be when considering 
my spoiled slave-child and tire ban ales of demeanoT she naivelv 
affected the winter before in California. Although I could 

171 



never get used to the constant state of anxiety in which the 
guilty, the great, the tenderhearted live, I felt I was doing 
my test in the way of mimicry. As I lay on my narrow studio 
bed after a session of adoration and despair in Lolita’s cold 
bedroom, I used to review the concluded day by checking 
my own image as_ it prowled rather than passed before the 
mind's red eye. I watched dark-and-handsome, not un-Celtic, 
probably high-church, possibly very high-church. Dr. Hum- 
bert see his daughter off to school. I watched him greet with 
his slow smile and pleasantly arched thick black ad-eyebrows 
good Mrs. Holigan, who smelled of the plague (and would 
head, I knew, for masted s gin at the first opportunity) . With 
Mr. West, retired executioner or writer of religious tracts — 
who cared? — I saw neighbor what’s his name, I think they are 
French or Swiss, meditate in his frank-windowed study over 
a typewriter, rather gaunt-profiled, an almost Hitlerian cow- 
lick on his pale brow. Weekends, wearing a well-tailored over- 
coat and brown gloves, Professor H. might be seen with his 
daughter strolling to Walton Inn (famous for its violet- 
ribboned china bunnies and chocolate boxes among which you 
sit and wait for a “table for two” still filthy with your pred- 
ecessor’s crumbs). Seen on weekdays, around one p.ml, 
saluting with dignity Arguseyed East while maneuvering the 
car out of the garage and around the damned evergreens, and 
down onto the slippery road. Raising a cold eye from book to 
clock in the positively sultry Beardsley College library, among 
bulky young women caught and petrified in the overflow’ of 
human knowledge. Walking across the campus with the col- 
lege clergyman, the Rev. Rigger (who also taught Bible in 
Beardsley School). “Somebody told me her mother was a 
celebrated actress killed in an airplane accident. Oh? My 
mistake, I presume. Is that so? I see. How sad.” (Sublimating 
her mother, eh7) Slowly pushing my little pram through the 
labyrinth of the supermarket, in the wake of Professor W., 
also a slow-moving and gentle widower with the eyes of a 
goat Shoveling the snow in my shirt-sleeves, a voluminous 
black and white’ muffler around my neck. Following with no 
show' of rapacious haste (even taking time to wipe my feet on 
the mat) my school-girl daughter into the house. Takmg 
Dolly to the dentist — pretty nurse beaming at her — old maga- 
zines — ne montrez pas vos zhambes. At dinner with Dolly in 
town, Mr. Edgar H. Humbert was seen eating his steak in 
the continental knife-and-fork manner. Enjoying, in duplicate, 

172 


a concert: two marble-faced, becalmed Frencbmen sitting side 
by side, with Monsieur H. H.’s musical little girl on her 
father’s right, and the musical little boy pf Professor W. 
(father spending a hygienic evening in Providence) on Mon- 
sieur G. G.’s left Opening the garage, a square of light that 
engulfs the car and is extinguished. Brightly pajamaed, Jerk- 
ing down the window shade in Dolly's bedroom. Saturday 
morning, unseen, solemnly weighing the winter-bleached lassie 
in the bathroom. Seen and heard Sunday morning, no church- 
goer after all, saying don’t be too late, to DoBy who is bound 
for the covered court Letting in a queerly observant school- 
mate of Dolly's: “First time I’ve seen a man wearing a smok- 
ing jacket sir — except in movies, of course.” 



Her girl friends, whom I had looked forward to meet 
proved on the whole disappointing. There was Opal Some- 
thing, and Linda Hall, and Avis Chapman, and Eva Rosen, 
and Mona Dahl (save one, aB these names are approximations, 
of course). Opal was a bashful, formless, bespectacled, be- 
pimpled creature who doted on DoBy who buBied her. With 
Linda Han the school tennis champion, Dolly played singles 
at least twice a week: I suspect Linda was a true nymphet 
but for some unknown reason she did not come — was per- 
haps not allowed to come — to our house; so I recaH her only 
as a flash of natural sunshine on an indoor court. Of the rest, 
none had any claims to nymphetry except Eva Rosen. Avis 
Tins a plump lateral child with hairy legs, while Mona, though 
handsome in a coarse sensual way and only a year older than 
mv aging mistress, had obviously long ceased to he a nymphet, 
if she ever had been one. Eva Rosen, a displaced little person 
from France, was on the other hand a good example of a not 
strikingly beautiful child revealing to the perspicacious ama- 
teur some of the basic elements of nymphet charm, such as 
a perfect pubescent figure and lingering eyes and high cheek- 
bones. Her glossy copper hair had Lolita’s sBkiness, and the 
features of her delicate mflkv-white face with pink lips and 
nlvcrfch eyelashes were less foxy than those of her likes— 

173 



the. great clan of intra-racial redheads; nor did she sport their 
green uniform but wore, as I remember her, a lot of black or 
cherry. dark— a very smart black pullover, for instance, and 
high-heeled black shoes, and gamet-red fingernail polish. I 
spoke French to her (much to Lo’s disgust). The child's 
tonalities were still admirably pure, but for school words and 
play words she resorted to current American and then a slight 
Brooklyn accent would crop up in her speech, which was 
amusing in a little Parisian who went to a select New England 
school with phoney British aspirations. Unfortunately, despite 
"that French kid’s uncle” being "a millionaire,” Lo dropped 
Eva for some reason before I had had time to enjoy in my 
modest way her fragrant presence in the Humbert open 
house. The reader knows what importance I attached to hav- 
ing a bevy of page girls, consolation prize nymphets, around 
my Lolita. For .a while, I endeavored to interest my senses 
in Mona Dahl who was a good deal around, especially during 
the spring term when Lo and she got so enthusiastic about 
dramatics. I have often wondered what secrets outrageously 
treacherous Dolores Haze had imparted to Mona while blurt- 
ing out to me by urgent and well-paid request various really 
incredible details concerning an affair that Mona had had 
with a marine at the seaside. It was characteristic of Lo that 
she chose for her closest chum that elegant, cold, lascivious, 
experienced young female whom I once heard (misheard, Lo 
swore) cheerfully say in the hallway to Lo — who had re- 
marked that her (Lo’s) sweater was of virgin wool: "The only 
thing about you that is, kiddo . . .” She had a curiously husky 
voice, artificially waved dull dark hair, earrings, amber-brown 
prominent eyes and luscious lips. Lo said teachers had remon- 
strated with her on her loading herself with so much costume 
jewelry. Her hands trembled. She was burdened with a 150 
I.Q. And I also knew she had a tremendous chocolate-brown 
mole on her womanish back which I inspected the night Lo 
and she had worn low-cut pastel-colored, vaporous dresses for 
a dance at the Butler Academy. 

I am anticipating a little, but I cannot help running my 
memory all over the keyboard of that school year. In meeting 
my attempts to find out what kind of boys Lo knew. Miss 
Dahl was elegantly evasive. Lo, who had gone to play tennis 
at Linda’s country club had telephoned she might be a full half 
hour late, and so, would I entertain Mona who was coming 
to practice with her a scene from The Taming of the Shrew. 

174 


Using all the modulations, all the allure of manner and voice 
she was capable of and staring at me with perhaps — could I 
be mistaken? — a faint gleam of crystalline irony, beautiful 
Mona replied: "Well, sir, the fact is Dolly is not much con- 
cerned with mere boys. Fact is, we are rivals. She and I have 
a crush on the Reverend Rigger.” (This was a joke I have 
already mentioned that gloomy giant of a man, with the jaw 
of a horse: he was to bore me to near murder with his im- 
pressions of Switzerland at a tea party for parents that I am 
unable to place correctly in terms of time.) 

How had the ball been? Oh, it had been a riot A what? A 
panic. Terrific, in a word. Had Lo danced a lot? Oh, not a 
frightful lot, just as much as she could stand. What did she, 
languorous Mona, think of Lo? Sir? Did she think Lo was 
doing well at school? Gosh, she certainly was quite a kid. But 
her general behavior was — ? Oh, she was a swell kid. But 
still? ‘‘Oh, she’s a doll,” concluded Mona, and sighed abruptly, 
and picked up a book that happened to lie at hand, and with 
a change of expression, falsely furrowing her brow, inquired: 
“Do tell me about Ball Zack, sir. Is he really that good?” She 
moved up so dose to my chair that I made out through lotions 
and creams her uninteresting skin scent A sudden odd thought 
slabbed me: was my Lo playing the pimp? If so, she had found 
the wrong substitute. Avoiding Mona’s cool gaze, I talked 
literature for a minute. Then Dolly arrived — and slit her pale 
eyes at us. I left the two friends to their own devices. One of 
the latticed squares in a small cobwebby casement window 
at the turn of the staircase was glazed with ruby, and that 
raw wound among the unstained rectangles and its asymmetri- 
cal position — a knight’s move from the top — always strangely 
disturbed me. 


10 

SoMrmrEs . . . Come on, how often exaetty, Bert? Can you 
recall four, five, more such occasions? Or would no human 
icart have survived two or three? Sometimes (I have nothing 
to say m reply to your question), while Lolita would be hap- 
^arcUy preparing her homework, sucking a pencil, lolling 

175 



sideways in an easy chair with both legs over its arm, I would 
shed all my pedagogic restraint, dismiss all our quarrels, forget 
all my masculine pride — and literally crawl on my knees to 
your chair, my Lolita! You would give me one look — a gray 
furry .question mark of a look: “Oh no, not again” (incredulity, 
exasperation); for you never deigned to believe that I could, 
without any specific designs, ever crave to bury my face in your 
plaid skirt, my darling! The fragility of those bare arms of 
yours — how I longed to enfold them, all your four limpid love- 
ly limbs, a folded colt, and take your head between my un- 
worthy hands, and pull the temple skin back on both sides, 
and kiss your chinesed eyes, and — 'Tulease, leave me alone, 
will you,” you would say, “for Christ’s sake leave me alone.” 
And I would get up from the floor while you looked on, your 
face deliberately twitching in imitation of my tic nerveux. 
But never mind, never mind, I am only a brute, never mind, 
let us go on with my miserable story. 


One Monday forenoon, in December I think, Pratt asked 
me to come over for a talk. Dolly's last report had been poor, 
I knew. But instead of contenting myself with some such 
plausible explanation of this summons, I imagined all sorts 
of horrors, and had to fortifiy myself with a pint of my “pin” 
before I could face the interview. Slowly, all Adam’s apple and 
heart, I went up the steps of the scaffold. 

- A huge woman, gray-haired, frowsy, with a broad flat nose 
and small eyes behind black-rimmed glasses — “Sit down,” 
she said, pointing to an informal and humiliating hassock, 
while she perched with ponderous spryness on the arm of an 
oak chair. For a moment or two, she peered at me with smiling 
curiosity. She had done it at our first meeting, I recalled, but I 
could afford then to scowl back. Her eye left me. She lapsed 
into thought — probably assumed. Making up her mind she 
rubbed, fold on fold, her dark gray flannel skirt at the knee, 
dispelling a trace of chalk or something. Then she said, still 
nibbing, not looking up: 

Let me ask you a blunt question, Mr. Haze. You are an 

176 


old-fashioned Continental father, aren’t yon?” 

"Why, no,” I said, "conservative, perhaps, but not wnat 
you would call old-fashioned. 

She sighed, frowned, then clapped her big plump hands 
together in a lefs-get-down-to-business manner, and again 
fixed her beady eyes upon me. 

“Dolly Haze,” she said, “is a lovely child, but the onset ot 
sexual maturing seems to give her trouble. 

1 bowed sliahtly. What else could I do? 

“She is still' shuttling” said Miss Pratt, showing how with 
her liver-spotted hands, "between the anal and genital zones 
of development. Basically she is a lovely — ■” 

"I beg your pardon,” I said, "wbat zones?” 

"That’s the old-fashioned European in you!” cried Pratt 
delivering a slight tap on my wrist watch and suddenly dis- 
closing her dentures. “All I mean is that biologic and psy- 
chologic drives — do you smoke? — are not fused in Dolly, 
do not fall so to speak into a — into a rounded pattern.” Her 
hands held for a moment an invisible melon. 

"She is attractive, bright though careless” (breathing 
heavily, without leaving her perch, the woman took time out 
to look at the lovely child’s report sheet on the desk at her 
right). “Her marks are getting worse and worse. Now I won- 
der, Mr. Haze — ” Again the false meditation. 

"Well,” she went on with zest, "as for me, I do smoke, and, 
as dear Dr. Pierce used to say: I’m not proud of it but I jeest 
love it” She lit up and the smoke she exhaled from her nos- 
trils was like a pair of tusks. 

"Let me give you a few details, it won't fake a moment 
Now let me see [rummaging among her papers). She is dehant 
toward Miss Reacock and impossibly rude to Miss Cormorant 
Now here is one of our special research reports: Enjoys sing- 
ing with group in class though mind seems to wander. Crosses 
her knees and nags left leg to rhythm. Type of by-words: a 
two-hundred-forty-two word area of the commonest pubescent 
slang fenced in by a number of obviously European polysyl- 

n ^Ebs a good deal in class. Let me see. Yes. Now comes 
the last week in November. Sighs a good deal in class. Chews 
gum vehemently. jDoes not bite her nails though if she did,, 
this would conform better to her general pattern — scientifi- 
cally spiking, of course. Menstruation, according to the sub- 
jcci well established. Belongs at present to no church or- 
ganization. By the nay, Mr. Haze, her mother was—? Oh, I 

177 



see. And you are — ? Nobody’s business is, I suppose, God's 
business. Something else we wanted to know. She has no 
regular home duties, I understand. Making a princess of your 
Dolly, Mr. Haze, eh? Well, what else have we got here? 
Handles books gracefully. Voice pleasant Giggles rather often. 
A little dreamy. Has private jokes of her own, transposing for 
instance the first letters of some of her teachers’ names. Hair 
light and dark brown, lustrous — well [laughing] you are aware 
of that, I suppose. Nose unobstructed, feet high-arched, eyes — 
let me see, I had here somewhere a still more recent report 
Aha, here we are. Miss Gold says Dolly’s tennis form is ex- 
cellent to superb, even better than Linda Hall's, but concen- 
tration and point-accumulation are just “poor to fair.” Miss 
Cormorant cannot decide whether Dolly has exceptional 
emotional control or none at all. Miss Horn reports she — I 
mean, Dolly — cannot verbalize her emotions, while according 
to Miss Cole Dolly’s metabolic efficiency is superfine. Miss 
Molar thinks Dolly is myopic and should see a good ophthal- 
mologist, but Miss Redcock insists that the girl simulates 
eyestrain to get way with scholastic incompetence. And to con- 
clude, Mr. Haze, our researchers are wondering about some- 
thing really crucial. Now I want to ask you something. I want 
to know if your poor wife, or yourself, or anyone else in the 
family — I understand she has several aunts and a maternal 
grandfather in California? — oh, hadf — I’m sorry — well, we 
all wonder if anybody in the family has instructed Dolly in 
the process of mammalian reproduction. The general im- 
pression is that fifteen-year-old Dolly remains morbidly unin- 
terested in sexual matters, or to be exact, represses her curiosity 
in order to save her ignorance and self-dignity. All right — 
fourteen. You see, Mr. Haze, Beardsley School does not be- 
lieve in bees and blossoms, and storks and love birds, but it 
does believe very strongly in preparing its students for mutually 
satisfactory mating and successful child rearing. We feel Dolly 
could make excellent progress if only she would put her mind 
to her work. Miss Cormorant’s report is significant in that 
respect Dolly is inclined to be, mildly speaking, impudent 
But all feel that primo, you should have your family doctor 
tell her the facts of life and, secundo, that you allow her to 
enjoy the company of her schoolmates’ brothers at the Junior 
Club or in Dr. Rigger’s organization, or in the lovely homes 
of our parents.” 

“She may meet boys at her own lovely home,” I said. 

178 



“I hope she will,” said Pratt buoyantly. "When we ques- 
tioned her about her troubles, Dohy refused to discuss the 
home situation, but we have spoken to some of her friends 
and really— well, for example, we insist you un-veto her non- 
participation in the dramatic group. You just must allow her 
to take part in The Hunted Enchanters. She was such a per- 
fect little nymph in the try-out, and sometime in spring the 
author will stay for a few days at Beardsley College and may 
attend a rehearsal or two in our new auditorium. I mean it is 
all part of the fun of being young and alive and beautiful. You 
must understand — ” 

"I always thought of myself," I said, “as a very understand- 
ing father.” 

"Oh no doubt, no doubt, but Miss Cormorant thinks, and 
I am inclined to agree with her, that DoTly is obsessed by 
sexual thoughts for which she finds no outlet, and will tease 
and martyrize other girls, or even our younger instructors be- 
cause they do have innocent dates with boys.” 

Shrugged my shoulders. A shabby 6migr6. 

"Let us put our two heads together, Mr. Haze. What on 
earth is wrong with that child?” r 

"She seems quite normal and happy to me,” I said (dis- 
aster coming at last? was I found out? had they got some hyp- 
notist? ). 

"What worries me,” said Miss Pratt looking at her watch 
and starting to go over the whole subject again, "is that both 
teachers and schoolmates find Dolly antagonistic, dissatisfied, 
cage ? — and everybody wonders why you are so firmly opposed 
to all the natural recreations of a normal child.” 

"Do you mean sex play?” I asked jauntily, in despair, a cor- 
nered old rati 


Well, I certainly welcome this civilized terminology,” said 
Pratt with a grin. "But this is not quite the point Under the 
auspices of Beardsley School, dramatics, dances and other 
natural activities are not technically sex play, though girls 
do^mcet boys, if that is what you object to.” 

_ "AB right," I said, my hassock exhaling a weary sigh. "You 
v.m. She can take part in that play. Provided male parts are 
taken by female parts.” 

"I am always fascinated,” said Pratt, “by the admirable way 
torcigners— or at least naturalized Americans — use our rich 
language. I’m sure Miss Gold, who conducts the play group, 
MU be overjoyed. I notice she is one of the few teacbera that 

179 


seem to like — I mean who seem to find Dolly manageable. 
This takes care of general topics, I guess; now comes a special 
matter. We are in trouble again.” 

Pratt paused truculently, then rubbed her index finger under 
her nostrils with such vigor that her nose performed a land 
of war dance. 

“I'm a frank person,” she said, “but conventions are con- 
ventions, and I find it difficult . . . Let me put it this way . . . 
The Walkers, who live in what we call around here the Duke’s 
Manor, you know the great gray house on the hill — they send 
their two girls to our school, and we have the niece of Presi- 
dent Moore with us, a really gracious child, not to speak of a 
number of other prominent children. Well, under the cir- 
cumstances, it is rather a jolt when Dolly, who looks like a 
little lady, uses words which you as a foreigner probably simply 
do not know or do not understand. Perhaps it might be better 
—Would you like me to have Dolly come up here tight away 
to discuss things? No? You see — oh well, let's have it out 
Dolly has written a most obscene four-letter word which our 
Dr. Cutler tells me is low-Mexican for urinal with her lipstick 
on some health pamphlets which Miss Redcock, who is get- 
ting married in June, distributed among the girls, and we 
thought she should stay after hours— another half hour at 
least But if you like—” 

“No,” I said, “I don't want to interfere with rules. I shall 
talk to her later; I shall thrash it out.” 

“Do,” said the woman rising from her chair arm. “And per- 
haps we can get together again soon, and if things do not 
improve we might have Dr. Cutler analyze her.” 

Should I marry Pratt and strangle her? 

“. . . And perhaps your family doctor might like to examine 
her physically — just a routine check-up. She is in Mushroom — 
the last classroom along the passage.” 

Beardsley School, it may be explained, copied a famous 
girls’ school in England by having “traditional” nicknames for 
its various classrooms: Mushroom, Room-In 8, B-room, Room- 
BA and so on. Mushroom was 'Smelly, with a sepia print of 
Reynolds’ “Age of Innocence” above the chalkboard, and 
several rows of dumsy-looldng pupil desks. At one of these, 
my Lolita was reading the chapter on “Dialogue” in Baker’s 
Dramatic Technique, and all was very quiet, and there was 
another girl with a very naked, porcelain-white neck and won- 
derful platinum hair, who sat in front reading too, absolutely 

180 


lost to the world and interminably winding a soft carl aroand 
one finger, and I sat beside .Dolly just behind that neck and 
that hair, and unbuttoned my overcoat and for sixty-five cents 
plus the permission to participate in the school play, had 
Dolly put her inky, chalky, red-knuckled hand nnder the desk. 
Oh, stupid and reckless of me, no doubt, but after the torture 
I had been subjected to, I simply bad to take advantage of 
a combination that I knew would never occur again. 


12 


Around Christmas she caught a bad chill and was examined 
by a friend of Miss Lester, a Dr. Use Tristramson (hi. Use, you 
were a dear, uninquisitive soul, and you touched my dove very 
gently). She diagnosed bronchitis, patted Lo on the back (all 
its bloom erect because of the fever) and put her to bed for 
a week or longer. At first she “ran a temperature” in American 
parlance, and I could not resist the exquisite caloricity of un- 
expected delights — Venus febriculosa — though it was a very 
languid Lolita that moaned and coughed and shivered in my 
embrace. And as soon as she was well again, I threw a Party 
with Boys. 

Perhaps I had drunk a little too much in preparation for the 
ordeal. Perhaps I made a fool of myself. The girls had dec- 
orated and plugged in a small fir tree-— German custom, except 
that colored bulbs had superseded wax candles. Records were 
chosen and fed into my landlord’s phonograph. Chic Dolly 
wore a nice gray dress with fitted bodice and flared skirt. Hum- 
ming. I retired to my study upstairs — and then every ten or 
twenty minutes I would come down like an idiot just for a 
few seconds; to pick up ostensibly my pipe from the mantel- 
piece or hunt for the newspaper; and with every new visit 
these simple actions became harder to perform, and I was 
reminded of the dreadfully distant dais when I used to brace 
myself to casually enter a room in the Ramsdale bouse where 
little Carmen was on. 

The party was not a success. Of the three girls invited, one 
aid not come at all, and one of the boys brought his cousin 
Rov, jo there was a superfluity of two boys, and the cousins 

181 



knew all the steps, and the other fellows could hardly dance 
at all, and most of the evening was spent in messing up the 
kitchen, and then endlessly jabbering about what card game 
to play, and sometime later, two girls and four boys sat on 
the floor of the living room, with all windows open, and played 
a word game which Opal could not be made to understand, 
while Mona and Roy, a lean handsome lad, drank ginger ale 
in the kitchen, sitting on the table and dangling their legs, 
and hotly discussing Predestination and the Law of Averages. 
After they had all gone my Lo said ugh, closed her eyes, and 
dropped into a chair with all four limbs starfished to express 
the utmost disgust and exhaustion and swore it was the most 
revolting bunch of boys she had ever seen. I bought her a new 
tennis racket for that remark. 

January was humid and warm, and February fooled the for- 
sythia: none of the townspeople had ever seen such weather. 
Other presents came tumbling in. For her birthday I bought 
her a bicycle, the doe-like and altogether charming machine 
already mentioned — and added to this a History of Modem 
American Painting: her bicycle manner, I mean her approach 
to it, the hip movement in mounting, the grace and so on, 
afforded me supreme pleasure; but my attempt to refine her 
pictorial taste was a failure; she wanted to know if the guy 
noon-napping on Doris Lee’s hay was the father of the pseudo- 
voluptuous hoyden in the foreground, and could not under- 
stand why I said Grant Wood or Peter Hurd was good, and 
Reginald Marsh or Frederick Waugh awfuL 



By the time spring had touched up Thayer Street with yellow 
and green and pink, Lolita was irrevocably stage-struck. Pratt, 
whom I chanced to notice one Sunday lunching with some 
people at Walton Inn, caught my eye from afar and went 
through the motion of sympathetically and discreetly clapping 
her hands while Lo was not looking. I detest the theatre as 
being a primitive and putrid form, historically speaking; a 
form that smacks of stone-age rites and communal nonsense 
despite those individual injections of genius, such as, say 

182 



Elizabethan poetxy which a closeted reader automatically 
pumps out of the stuff. Being much occupied at the time 
with my own literary labors, I did not bother to read the com- 
plete text of The Enchanted Hunters, the playlet in which 
Dolores Haze was assigned the part of a farmer's daughter 
who imagines herself to be a woodland witch, or Diana, or 
something, and who, having got hold of a book on hypnotism, 
plunges a number of lost hunters into various entertaining 
trances before falling in her turn under the spell of a vagabond 
poet (Mona Dahl). That much I gleaned from bits of 
crumpled and poorly typed script that Lo sowed all over the 
house. The coincidence of the title vrith the name of an on- 
forgettable inn was pleasant in a sad little way: I wearily 
thought I had better not bring it to my own enchantress’s 
notice, lest a brazen accusation of mawkishness hurt me even 
more than her failure to notice it for herself had done. I as- 


sumed the playlet was just another, practically anonymous, 
version of some banal legend. Nothing prevented one, of 
course, from supposing that in quest of an attractive name the 
founder of the hotel had been immediately and solely in- 
fluenced by the chance fantasy of the second-rate moralist he 
had hired, and that subsequently the hotel’s name had sug- 
gested the play’s title. But in my credulous, simple, benevolent 
mind I happened to twist it the other way round, and with- 
out giving the whole matter much thought really, supposed 
that mural, name and title had all been derived from a com- 
mon source, from some local tradition, which I, an alien 
unversed in New England lore, would not be supposed to 
know. In consequence I was under the impression (all this 
quite casually, you understand, quite outside any orbit of 
importance), that the accursed playlet belonged to the type 
of whimscy for juvenile consumption, arranged and rearranged 
many times, such as Hansel and Gretel by Richard Roe. or 
The Sleeping Beauty by Dorothy Doe, or The Emperor’s New 
Clothes by Maurice Vermont and Marion Rumpelmcver — 
all this to be found in any Plays for School Actors or Let’s 
Have a Play! In other words. I did not know — and would not 
have cared, if I did — that actually The Enchanted Hunters 
was a quite recent and technically original composition which 
had been produced for the first time only three or four months 
ago by a highbrow group in New York To me— inasmuch as 
l could judge from my charmer s part — it seemed to be a pretty 

183 


dismal kind of fancy work, with echoes from Lenormand and 
Maeterlinck and various quiet British dreamers. The red- 
capped, uniformly attired hunters, of which one was a hanker, 
another a plumber, a third a policeman, a fourth an under- 
taker, a fifth an underwriter, a sixth an escaped convict (you 
see the possibilities!), went through a complete change of 
mind in Dolly’ s Dell, and remembered their real lives only as 
dreams or nightmares from which little Diana had aroused 
them; but a seventh Hunter (in a green cap, the fool) was a 
Young Poet, and he insisted, much to Diana’s annoyance, 
that she and the entertainment provided (dancing nymphs, 
and elves, and monsters) were his, the Poet’s, invention. I 
understand that finally, in utter disgust at this cocksureness, 
barefooted Dolores was to lead check-trousered Mona to the 
paternal farm behind the Perilous Forest to prove to the brag- 
gard she was not a poet’s fancy, but a rustic, down-to-brown- 
earth lass — and a last-minute kiss was to enforce the play’s 
profound message, namely, that mirage and reality merge in 
love. I considered it wiser not to criticize the thing in front 
of Lo: she was so healthily engrossed in “problems of ex- 
pression,” and so charmingly did she put her narrow Floren- 
tine hands together, batting her eyelashes and pleading with 
me not to come to rehearsals as some ridiculous parents did 
because she wanted to dazzle me with a perfect First Night — 
and because I was, anyway, always butting in and saying the 
wrong thing, and cramping her style in the presence of other 
people. 

There was one very special rehearsal , . . my heart, my 
heart . . . there was one day in May marked by a lot of gay 
flurry — it all rolled past, beyond my ken, immune to my mem- 
ory, and when I saw Lo next, in the late afternoon, balancing 
on her bike, pressing the palm of her hand to the damp bark 
of a young birch tree on the edge of our lawn, I was so struck 
by the radiant tenderness of her smile that for an instant I 
believed all our troubles gone. “Can you remember,” she said, 
“what was the name of that hotel, you know [nose puckered], 
come on, you know — with those white columns and the 
marble swan in the lobby? Oh, you know [noisy exhalation of 
breath] — the hotel where you raped me. Okay, slap it. I mean, 
was it [almost in a whisper] The Enchanted Hunters? Oh, it 
was? [musingly] Was it?” — and with a yelp of amorous vernal 
laughter she slapped the glossy bole and tore uphill, to the 
end of the street, and then rode back, feet at rest on stopped 

184 


pedals, posture relaxed, one hand dreaming .in her print- 
flowered lap. 


14 

Because it supposedly tied up with her interest in dance 
and dramatics, I had permitted Lo to take piano lessons with 
a Miss Emperor (as we French scholars may conveniently call 
her) to whose blue-shuttered little White house a mile or so 
beyond Beardsley Lo would spin oS twice a week. One Friday 
night toward the end of May (and a week or so after the very 
special rehearsal Lo had not had me attend) the telephone 
in my study, where I was in the act of mopping up Gustave’s — 

1 mean Gaston’s — king’s side, rang and Miss Emperor asked 
if Lo was coming next Tuesday because she had missed last 
Tuesday's and today’s lessons. I said she would by all means — 
and went on with the game. As the reader may well imagine, 
my faculties were now’ impaired, and a move or two later, . 
with Gaston to play, I noticed through the film of my general 
distress that he could collect my queen; he noticed it too, 
but thinking it might be a trap on the part of his tricky op- 
ponent, he demurred for quite a minute, and puffed and 
wheezed, and shook his Jowls, and even shot furtive glances at 
me, and made hesitating half-thrusts with his pudgily bunched 
r fingers — dying to take that juicy queen and not daring — 

; and ah of a sudden he swooped down upon it (who knows if 
; it did not teach him certain later audacities?), and I spent a 
- dreary hour in achieving a draw. He finished his brandy and 

• presently lumbered away, quite satisfied with this result (mon 
pauvre ami, jc ne mas a i jamais reru et quoiqu’ff y ait bicn peu 

• de chance que vous voyiez mon line, permettez-moi de vous 

: dire que je vous serre la main bicn cordialement, et que 
$ ftrates mes fihettes vous salucnt) . 1 found Dolores Haze at the 
■i kitchen table, consuming a wedge of pie, with her eyes fixed 
£ ori her script. Then - rose to meet mine with a land of celestial 
> vapidity. She remained singularly unruffled when confronted 
f. ^"ffh my discovery, and said d"un petit air faussement contrit 
: -’he knew she was a very wicked kid, but simply had not 

-s been able to resist the enchantment, and had used up those 

1S> 


music hours — O Reader, My Reader! — in a nearby public park 
1 rehearsing the magic forest scene with Mona. I said “fine"— 
and stalked to the telephone. Mona’s mother answered: “Oh 
yes, she’s in” and retreated with a mother’s neutral laugh of po- 
lite pleasure to shout off stage “Roy caHingl” and the very next 
- moment Mona rustled up, and forthwith, in a low monotonous 
not untender voice started berating Roy for something he had 
said or done and I interrupted her, and presently Mona was 
saying in her humblest, sexiest contralto, “yes, sir,” “surely, 
sir,” “I am alone to blame, sir, in this unfortunate business,” 
(what elocution! what poise!) “honest, I feel very bad about 
it” — and so on and so forth as those little harlots say. 

So downstairs I went clearing my throat and holding my 
heart. Lo was now in the living room, in her favorite over- 
stuffed chair. As she sprawled there, biting at a hangnail and 
mocking me with her heartless vaporous eyes, and all the time 
rocking a stool upon which she had placed the heel of an 
outstretched shoeless foot, I perceived all at once with a sick- 
ening qualm how much she had changed since I first met her 
two years ago. Or had this happened during those last two 
weeks? Tendiesse? Surely that was an exploded myth. She sat 
right in the focus of my incandescent anger. The fog of all 
lust had been swept away leaving nothing but this dreadful 
lucidity. Oh, she had changed! Her complexion was now that 
of any vulgar untidy highschool girl who applies -shared cos- 
metics with grubby fingers to an unwashed face and does not 
mind what soiled texture, what pustulate epidermis comes in 
contact with her skin. Its smooth tender bloom had been so 
lovely in former days, so bright with tears, when I used to 
roll, in play, her tousled head on my knee. A coarse flush had 
now replaced that innocent-fluorescence. What was locally 
known as a “rabbit cold” had painted with flaming pink the 
edges of her contemptuous nostrils. As in terror I lowered my 
gaze, it mechanically slid along the underside of her tensely 
stretched bare thigh — how polished and muscular her legs had 
grown! She kept her wide-set eyes, clouded-glass gray and 
slightly bloodshot, fixed upon me, and I saw the stealthy 
thought showing through them that perhaps after all Mona 
was right, and she, orphan Lo, could expose me without getting 
penalized herself. How wrong I was. How mad I was! Every- 
thing about her was of the same exasperating impenetrable 
order — the strength of her shapely legs, the dirty sole of her 
white sock, the thick sweater she wore despite the closeness of 

186 


the room, her wenchy smell, and especially the dead end of her 
fece with its strange flush and freshly made-up lips. Some of 
the red had left stains on her front teeth, and I was struck by a 
ghastly recollection— the evoked image not of Monique, but 
of another young prostitute in a bell-house, ages ago, who had 
been snapped up by somebody else before I had time to decide 
whether her mere youth warranted my risking some appalling 
disease, and who had jnst such flushed prominent pommettes 
and a dead maman, and big front teeth, and a bit of dingy red 
ribbon in her country-brown bair. 

"Well, speak,” said Lo. ‘Was the corroboration satisfac- 
tory?” 

"Oh, yes,” I said. ‘Terfecti Yes. And I do not doubt you two 
made it up. As a matter of fact, I do not doubt you have told 
her everything about us.” 

"Oh, yah?” 

I controlled my breath and said: "Dolores, this must stop 
right away. I am ready to yank you out of Beardsley and lock 
you up you know where, but this must stop. I am ready to take 
you away the time it takes to pack a suitcase. This must stop 
or else anything may happen.” 

"Anything may happen, huh?” 

I snatched away the stool she was rocking with her heel 
and her foot fell with a thud on the floor. 

"Hey," she cried, "take it easy.” 

"First of all you go upstairs,” I cried in my turn, — and 
simultaneously grabbed at her and pulled her up. From that 
moment, 1 stopped restraining my voice, and we continued 
yelling at each other, and she said unprintable things. She said 
she loathed me. She made monstrous faces at me, inflating her 
checks and producing a diabolical plopping sound. Sbe said I 
had attempted to violate her several times when I was her 
mother’s roomer. She said she was sure I bad murdered hex 
mother. She said she would sleep with the very first fellow 
who asked her and I could do nothing about it I said sbe was 
to go upstairs and show me all her hiding places. It was a 
strident and hateful scene. I held her by her knobby wrist 
and she kept turning and twisting it this way and that, sur- 
reptitiously trying to find a weak point so as to wrench herself 
free at a favorable moment, but I held her quite bard and in 
fact hurt her rather badly for which I hope my heart may 
rot. and once or twice she jerked her arm so violently that I 
reared her wrist might snap, and all the while she stared at me 

1S7 


with those unforgettable eyes where cold anger and hot tears 
struggled, and our voices were drowning the telephone, and 
when I grew aware of its ringing she instantly escaped. 

With people in movies I seem to share the services of the 
machina telephonica and its sudden god. This time it was an 
irate neighbor. The east window happened to be agape in the 
living room, with the blind mercifully down, however; and 
behind it the damp black night of a sour New England spring 
had been breathlessly listening to us. I had always thought 
that type of haddocky spinster with the obscene mind was 
. the result of considerable literary inbreeding in modem fiction; 
but now I am convinced that prude and prurient Miss East — 
or to explode her incognito, Miss Fenton Lebone — had been 
probably protrading three-quarter-way from her bedroom win- 
dow as she strove to catch the gist of our quarrel. 

“. . . This racket . . . lacks all sense of . . ." quacked 
the receiver, “we do not live in a tenement here. I must 
emphatically ...” 

I apologized for my daughter’s friends being so loud. Young 
people, you know — and cradled the next quack and a half. 

Downstairs the screen door banged. Lo? Escaped? 

Through the casement on the stairs I saw a small impetuous 
ghost slip through the shrubs; a silvery dot in the dark — hub 
of bicycle wheel — moved, shivered, and she was gone. 

It so happened that the car was spending the night in a 
repair shop downtown. I had no other alternative than to 
pursue on foot the winged fugitive. Even now, after more than 
three years have heaved and elapsed, I cannot visualize that 
spring-night street, that already so leafy street, without a gasp 
of panic. Before their lighted porch Miss Lester was prom- 
enading Miss Fabian’s dropsical dackel, Mr. Hyde almost 
knocked it over. Walk three steps and run three. A tepid rain 
started to drum on the chestnut leaves. At the next corner, 
pressing Lolita against an iron railing, a blurred youth held 
and kissed — no, not her, mistake. My talons still tingling, I 
flew on. 

Half a mile or so east of number fourteen, Thayer Street 
tangles with a private lane and a cross street; the latter leads 
to the town proper; in front of the first drugstore, I saw — with 
what melody of relief 1 — Lolita’s fair bicycle waiting for her. I 
pushed instead of pulling, pulled, pushed, pulled, and entered. 
Look out! Some ten paces away Lolita, through the glass of a 

188 


V 


telephone booth (membranous god still with us), cupping the 
tube, confidentially bunched over it, slit her eyes at me, turned 
away with her treasure, hurriedly hung up, and walked out 

with a flourish. - . ' 

‘Tried to reach yon at home,” she said bnghtly. A peat 
decision has been made. Bnt first buy me a drink. Dad.” 

She watched the listless pale fountain girl put in the ice, 
pour in the coke, add the cherry syrup— -and my heart was 
bursting with lore-ache. That childish wrist My lovely child. 
You hare a lovely child, Mr. Humbert. We always admire her 
as she passes by. Mr. Pirn watched Pippa suck in the con- . 
coction. 

J'ai fou/ours sdmiid Tccvnrre Ormonde da sublime Dabli- 
nois. And in the meantime the rain had become a voluptuous 
shower. 

“Look," she said as she rode the bike beside me, one foot 
scraping the darkly glistening sidewalk, “look. I've decided 
something. I want to leave school. I hate that school. I hate 
the play, I really do! Never go back. Find another. Leave at 
once. Go for a long trip again. But this time we’ll go wherever 
I want, won't we?" 

I nodded. My Lolita. 

“I choose? Ccst entendu?” she asked wobbling a little be- 
side me. Used French only when she was a very good little girl. 

"Okay. Entendu. Now hop-hop-hop, Lenore, or you’ll get 
soaked.” (A storm of sobs was filling my chest) 

Sire bared her teeth and after her adorable scbool-girl fash- 
ion, leaned forward, and away she sped, my bird. 

Miss Lester* s finely groomed hand held a porch-door open 
for a waddling old dog qui pren ait son temps. 

Lo was waiting for me near die ghostly birchtree. 

“I am drenched,” she declared at the top of her voice. “Are 
you glad? To hell with the play! See what I mean?” 

An invisible hag’s daw slammed down an upper-floor win- 
dow. 

In our hallway, ablaze with welcoming lights, my Lolita 
peeled off her sweater, shook her gemmed hair, stretched 
towards me two bare arms, raised one knee: 

“Cany me upstairs, please. I feel sort of Tomanfa'c to-night” 

It may interest physiologists to learn, at this point, that I 
nave the ability — a most singular case, I presume — of shedding 
torrents oi tears throughout the other tempest 

159 



The brakes were relined, the waterpipes unclogged, the 
valves ground, and a number of other repairs and improve- 
ments were paid for by not very mechanically-minded but 
prudent papa Humbert, so that the late Mrs. Humbert's car 
was in respectable shape when ready to undertake a new 
journey. . ' 

We had promised Beardsley School, good old Beardsley 
School, that we would be back as soon as my Hollywood en- 
gagement came to an end (inventive Humbert was to be, I 
hinted, chief consultant in the production of a film dealing 
with "existentialism," still a hot thing at the time) . Actually 
I was toying with the idea of gently trickling across the Mex- 
ican border — I was braver now than last year — and there de- 
ciding what to do with my little concubine who was now sixty 
inches tall and weighed ninety pounds. We had dug out our 
tour books and maps. She had traced our route with immense 
zest. Was it thanks to those theatricals that she had now out- 
grown her juvenile jaded airs and was so adorably keen to 
explore rich reality? I experienced the queer lightness of 
dreams that pale but warm Sunday morning when we aban- 
doned Professor Chem's puzzled house and sped along Main 
Street toward the four-lane highway. My Love’s striped, black- 
and-white, cotton frock, jaunty blue cap, white socks and 
brown moccasins were not quite in keeping with the large 
beautifully cut aquamarine on a silver chainlet, which gemmed 
her throat: a spring rain gift from me. We passed the New 
Hotel, and she laughed. "A penny for your thoughts," I said 
and she stretched out her palm at once, but at that moment 
I had to apply the brakes rather abruptly at a red light. As we 
pulled up, another car came to a gliding stop alongside, and 
a very striking looking, athletically lean young woman (where 
had I seen her? ) with a high complexion and shoulder-length 
brilliant bronze hair, greeted Lo with a ringing “Hil" — and 
then, addressing me, effusively, edusively (placed!), stressing 
certain words, said. “What a shame it was to tear Dolly away 
from the play — you should have heard the author raving about 
her after that rehearsal — ” “Green light, you dope,” said Lo 
under her breath, and simultaneously, waving in bright adieu a 

190 



bangJed arm, Joan of Arc (in a performance we saw at the local 
theatre) violently outdistanced os to swerve into Campus 

Avenue. ' 

"Who was it esadly? Vermont or Rumpelmeyer? 

“No — Edusa Gold— -the gal who coaches ns.” 

"I was not referring to her. Who exactly concocted that 


"Ohl Yes, of course. Some old woman, Clare Something, I 
guess. There was quite a crowd of them there.” 

"So she complimented you?” 

"Complimented my eye — she hissed me on my pure brow” 
— and my darling emitted that new yelp of merriment which 
— perhaps in connection with her theatrical mannerisms — sire 
had lately begun to affect 

"You are a funny creature, Lolita,” I said — or some such 
words. "Naturally, I am overjoyed you gave up that absurd 
stage business. But what is curious is that you dropped the 
whole thing only a week before its natural climax. Oh, Lolita, 
you should be careful of those surrenders of yonis. I remember 
you gave up Ramsdale for camp, and camp for a joyride, and 
I could list other abrupt changes in your disposition. You must 
be careful. There are things that should never be given up. You 
must persevere. You should try’ to be a little nicer to me, 
Lolita. You should also watch your diet. The tour of your 
thigh, you know, should not exceed seventeen and a half 
inches. More might be fatal (I was kidding, of course). We 
arc now setting out on a long happy journey. I remember — ” 



I ixmemher as a child in Europe gloating over a map of 
No:th America that had “Appalachian Mountains” boldly 
running from Alabama up to New Brunswick, so that the 
V'UC.e region they spanned — Tennessee, the Virginias, Penn- 
rwvania New lork, Vermont, New Hampshire and Maine, 
•Tpccrcd to my imagination as a gigantic Switzerland or even 
iu>ct, an mountain, glorious diamond peak upon peak, giant 
ecu-ters, 1 : montapmd dmigrd in his bear skin glory, and 
c.:s trgrij goldsmith!, and Red Indians under the catalpas. 

191 



That it all boiled down to a measly suburban lawn and a 
smoking garbage incinerator, was appalling. Farewell, Appa- 
lachia! Leaving it, we crossed Ohio, the three states be ginnin g 
with "I,” and Nebraska — ah, the first whiff of the West! We 
travelled very leisurely, having more than a week to reach 
Wace, Continental Divide, where she passionately desired to 
see the Ceremonial Dances marking the seasonal opening of 
Magic Cave, and at least three weeks to reach Elphinstone, 
gem of a western state where she yearned to climb Red Rock 
from which a mature screen star had recently jumped to her 
death after a drunken row with her gigolo. 

Again we were welcomed to wary motels by means of in- 
scriptions that read: 

“We wish you to feel at home while here. AH equipment 
was carefully checked upon your arrival. Your license number 
is on record here. Use hot water sparingly. We reserve the 
right to eject without notice any objectionable person. Do not 
throw waste material of any kind in the toilet bowl. Thank 
you. Call again. The Management. P.S. We consider our 
guests the Finest People of the World.” 

In these frightening places we paid ten for twins, flies 
queued outside at the screenless door and successfully scram- 
bled in, the ashes of our predecessors still lingered in the ash- 
trays, a woman’s hair lay on the pillow, one heard one’s neigh- 
bor hanging his coat in his closet, the hangers were ingeniously 
fixed to their bars by coils of wire so as to thwart theft, and, in 
crowning insult, the pictures above the twin beds were iden- 
tical twins. I also noticed that commercial fashion was chang- 
ing. There was a tendency for cabins to fuse and gradually 
form the caravansary, and, lo (she was not interested but the 
reader may be), a second story was added, and a lobby grew 
in, and cars were removed to a communal garage, and the 
motel reverted to the good old hotel. 

I now warn the reader not to mock me and my mental 
daze. It is easy for him and me to decipher now a past destiny; 
but a destiny in the making is, believe me, not one of those 
honest mystery stories where all you have to do is keep an eye 
on the clues. In my youth I once read a French detective tale 
where the clues were actually in italics; but that is not Mc- 
Fate’s way — even if one does Ieam to recognize certain obscure 
indications. 

For instance: I would not swear that there was not at 
east otLe occasion, prior to, or at the very beginning of, the 

192 ^ 



Midwest lap of oat journey, when she managed to convey 
some information to, or otherwise get into contact with, a 
person or persons unknown. We had stopped at a gas station, 
under the sign of Pegasus, and she had slipped out of her seat 
and escaped to the rear of the premises while the raised hood, 
under which I had bent to watch the mechanic’ s manipula- 
tions, hid her for a moment from my sight Being inclined to 
he lenient I only shook my benign head though strictly 
speaking such visits were taboo, since I felt instinctively that 
toilets — as also telephones — happened to be for reasons un- 
fathomable, the points where my destiny was liable to catch. 
We all have such fateful objects — it may he a recurrent land- 
scape in one case, a number in another — carefully chosen by 
the gods to attract events of special significance for us: here 
shah John always stumble; there shah Jane’ s heart always break. 

Well — my car had been attended to, and I had moved it 
away from the pumps to let a pickup truck be serviced — when 
the growing volume of her absence began to weigh upon me in 
the windy grayncss. Not for the first time, and not for the 
last, had I stared in such dull discomfort of mind at those 
stationary trivialities that look almost surprised, like staring 
rustics, to find themselves in the stranded traveller’s field of 
virion: that green garbage can, those very black, very white- 
walled tires for sale, those bright cans of motor oil, that red 
icebox with assorted drinks, the four, five, seven discarded 
bottles within the incomplcted crossword puzzle of their 
wooden cells, that bug patiently walking up the inside of the 
window of the office. Radio music was coming from its open 
door, and because the rhythm was not synchronized with the 
heave and flutter and other gestures of wind-animated vege- 
tation, one had the impression of an old scenic film bring its 
own life while piano or fiddle followed a line of music quite 
outodc the shivering flower, the swaying branch. The sound 
of Charlotte's last sob incongruously vibrated through me as, 
with her dress fluttering athwart the rhythm, Lolita veered 
bom a totally unexpected direction. She had found the toilet 
occupied and had crossed over to the sign of the Conche in 
t-e next block. They said they were proud of their home-clean 
rorirooms. These prepaid postcards, thev said, had been uro- 
vwed for your comments. No postcards. No soap. Nothing 
v'O comments. 

That cay or the next, after a tedious drive throuah a land of 
.nod crops, wm reached a pleasant little burg and put up at 

195 



Chestnut Court — nice cabins, damp green grounds, apple 
trees, an old swing — and a tremendous sunset which the tired 
child ignored. She had wanted to go through Kasbeam because 
it was only thirty miles north from her home town but on the 
following morning I found her quite listless, with no desire to 
see again the sidewalk where she had played hopscotch some 
five years before. For obvious reasons I had rather dreaded 
that side trip, even though we had agreed not to make our- 
selves conspicuous in any way — to remain in the car and not 
look up old friends. My relief at her abandoning the project 
was spoiled by the thought that had she felt I were totally 
against the nostalgic possibilities of Pisky, as I had been last 
year, she would not have given up so easily. On my men- 
tioning this with a sigh, she sighed too and complained of 
being out of sorts. She wanted to remain in bed till teatime 
at least, with lots of magazines, and then if she felt better she 
suggested we just continue westward. I must say she was very 
sweet and languid, and craved for fresh fruits, and I decided to 
go and fetch her a toothsome picnic lunch in Kasbeam. Our 
cabin stood on the timbered crest of a hill, and from our 
window you could see the road winding down, and then 
running as straight as a hair parting between two rows of 
chestnut trees, towards the pretty, town, which looked sin- 
gularly distinct and toylike in the pure morning distance. One 
could make out an elf-like girl on an insect-like bicycle, and a 
dog, a bit too large proportionately, all as clear as those pilgrims 
- and mules winding up wax-pale roads in old paintings with 
blue hills and red little people. I have the European urge to 
use my feet when a drive can be dispensed with, so I leisurely 
walked down, eventually meeting the cyclist — a plain plump 
girl with pigtails, followed by a huge St. Bernard dog with 
orbits like pansies. In Kasbeam a very old barber gave me a 
very mediocre haircut: he babbled of a baseball-playing son 
of his, and, at every explodent, spat into my neck, and every 
now and then wiped his glasses on my sheet-wrap, or inter- 
rupted his tremulous scissor work to produce faded newspaper 
clippings, and so inattentive was I that it came as a shock to 
realize as he pointed to an easeled photograph among the 
ancient gray lotions, that the mustached young ball player 
had been dead for the last thirty years. 

I had a cup of hot flavorless coffee, bought a bunch of ba- 
nanas for my monkey, and spent another ten minutes or so in 
a delicatessen store. At least an hour and a half must have 

194 


elapsed svhcn this homeward-hound little pilgrim appeared on 
the winding road leading to Chestnut Castle. 

The girl I had seen on my way to town was now loaded with 
linen and engaged in helping a misshapen man whose big head 
and coarse features reminded me of the "Bertoldo” character 
in low Italian comedy. They were cleaning the cabins of which 
there was a dozen or so on Chestnut Crest, all pleasantly 
spaced amid the copious verdure. It was noon, and most of 
them, with a final bang of their screen doors, had already got 
rid of their occupants. A very elderly, almost mummy-like cou- 
ple in a very new model were in the act of creeping out of 
one of the contiguous garages; from another a red hood pro- 
truded in somewhat cod-piece fashion; and nearer to our 
cabin, a strong and handsome young man with a shock of 
black hair and blue eyes was putting a portable refrigerator 
into a station wagon. For some reason he gave me a sheepish 
grin as I passed. On the grass expanse opposite, in the many- 
limbcd shade of luxuriant trees, the familiar St. Bernard dog 
was guarding his mistress’ bicycle, and nearby a young woman, 
far gone in the family way, had seated a rapt baby on a swing 
and was rocking it gently, while a jealous boy of two or three 
was making a nuisance of himself by trying to push or pull 
the swing hoard; he finally succeeded in getting himself 
knocked down by it, and bawled loudly as he lay supine on 
the grass while his mother continued to smile gently at neither 
of her present children. I recall so clearly these minutiae prob- 
ably because I was to check my impressions so thoroughly only 
a few minutes later, and besides, something in me had been 
on guard ever since that awful night in Beardsley. 1 now 
refused to be diverted by the feeling of well-being that my 
walk had engendered — by the young summer breeze that en- 
veloped the nape of my neck, the giving crunch of the damp 
gravel, the juicy tidbit I had sucked out at last from a hollow' 
tooth, and even the comfortable weight of my provisions 
which the general condition of my heart should not have 
allowed me to carry; but even that miserable pump of mine 
seemed to be working sweetly, and I felt adolori cfamoureuse 
Bngucur, to quote dear old Ronsard, as I reached the cottage 
where I had left my Dolores. 

To my surprise I found her dressed. She was sitting on the 
edge of the bed in slacks and T-shirt, and was looking at me 
as if she could not quite place me. The frank soft shape of 
her small breasts was brought out rather than blurred bv the 

195 



limpness of her thin shirt, and this frankness irritated me. She 
had not washed; yet her mouth was freshly though smudgily 
painted, and her broad teeth glistened like wine-tinged ivory, 
or pinkish poker chips. And there she sat, hands clasped in 
her lap, and dreamily brimmed with a diabolical glow that had 
no relation to me whatever. 

I plumped down my heavy paper bag and stood staring at 
the bare ankles of her sandaled feet, then at her silly face, then 
again at her sinful feet. “You’ve been out,” I said (the sandals 
were filthy with gravel) . 

“I just got up,” she replied, and added upon intercepting 
my downward glance: '“Went out for a sec. Wanted to see 
if you were coming back.” 

She became aware of the bananas and uncoiled herself table- 
ward. 

What special suspicion could I have? None indeed — but 
those muddy, moony eyes of hers, that singular warmth ema- 
nating from her! I said nothing. I looked at the road mean- 
dering so distinctly within the frame of the window . . . 
Anybody wishing to betray my trust would have found it a 
splendid lookout. With rising appetite, Lo applied herself to 
the fruit. All at once I remembered the ingratiating grin of 
the Johnny nextdoor. I stepped out quickly. All cars had dis- 
appeared except his station wagon; his pregnant young wife 
was now getting into it with her baby and the other, more 
or less cancelled, child. 

“What’s the matter, where are you going?” cried Lo from 
the porch. 

I said nothing. I pushed her softness back into the room and 
went in after her. I ripped her shirt off. I unzipped the rest of 
her. I tore off her sandals. Wildly, I pursued the shadow of her 
infidelity; but the scent I travelled upon v/as so slight as to be 
practically undistinguishable from a madman’s fancy. 


17 


Gitos Gaston, in his prissy way, had liked to make presents — 
presents just a prissy rvee bit out of the ordinary, or so he 
prissily thought. Noticing one night that my box of chessmen 

196 



was broken, he sent rne next morning, with a little lad of his. 
a copper case: it had an elaborate Oriental design over the 
lid and could be securely locked. One glance sufficed to assure 
me that it was one of those cheap money boxes called for 
some reason "luizettas” that you buy in Algiers and elsewhere, 
and •wonder what to do with afterwards. It turned out to be 
much too fiat for holding my bulky chessmen, but I kept it — 
using it for a totally different purpose. 

In order to break some pattern of fate in which 1 obscurely 
felt myself being enmeshed, I had decided — despite Lo's risi- 
ble annoyance — to spend another night at Chestnut Court; 
definitely waking up at four in the morning, I ascertained that 
Lo was still sound asleep (mouth open, in a kind of dull 
amazement at the curiously inane life we all had rigged up 
for her) and satisfied myself that the precious contents of the 
'ffuizetta" were safe. There, snugly wrapped in a white woollen 
scarf, lay a pocket automatic: caliber .52, capacity of magazine 
8 cartridges, length a little under one ninth of Lolita’s length, 
stock checked walnut, finish full blued. I had inherited it 
from the late Harold Haze, with a 1958 catalog which cheerily 
said in part: "Particularly well adapted for use in the home 
and car as well as on the person." There it lay. ready for instant 
service on the person or persons, loaded and fully cocked with 
the slide lock in safety position, thus precluding any acci- 
dental discharge. We must remember that a pistol is the 
Freudian symbol of the Ur-fathcr’s central forclimb. 

I was now glad I had it with me — and even mom glad that I 
had learned to use it two years before, in the pine forest around 
my and Charlotte’s glass Lake. Farlow, with whom 1 had 
roamed those remote woods, was an admirable marksman, and 
with his .38 actually managed to hit a humming bird, though 
I must say not much of it could be retrieved for proof — only 
a little iridescent fluff. A burly cx-policcman called Krtr- 
tovski, who in the twenties had shot and lolled two escaped 
convicts, joined us and bagged a tiny woodpecker — completely 
out of season, incidentally. Ectwcen those two sportsmen I of 
course was a norice and kept missing everything, though 1 
did wound a squirrel on a later occasion when 1 went out 
alone. "You He here.” I whispered to my light-weight com- 
pact little chum, and then toasted it with a drr.m cf pin. 


197 



The readee must now forget Chestnuts and Colts, and ac- 
company us further west The following days were marked by a 
number of great thunderstorms — or perhaps, there was but one 
single storm which progressed across country in ponderous 
frog-leaps and which we could not shake off just as we could 
not shake off detective Trapp: for it was during those days that 
the problem of the Aztec Red Convertible presented itself 
to me, and quite overshadowed the theme of Lo’s lovers. 

Queerl I who was jealous of every male we met — queer, how 
I misinterpreted the designations of doom. Perhaps I had been 
lulled by Lo's modest behavior in winter, and anyway it would 
have been too foolish even for a lunatic to suppose another 
Humbert was avidly following Humbert and Humbert's 
nymphet with Jovian fireworks, over the great and ugly plains. 
I surmised, done, that the Red Yak keeping behind us at a 
discreet distance mile after mile was operated by a detectiye 
whom some busybody had hired to see what exactly Humbert 
Humbert was doing with that minor stepdaughter of his. As 
happens with me at periods of electrical disturbance and 
crepitating lightnings, I had hallucinations. Maybe they were 
more than hallucinations. I do not know what she or he, or 
both had put into my liquor but one night I felt sure some- 
body was tapping on the door of our cabin, and I flung it 
open, and noticed two things — that I was stark naked and 
that, white-glistening in the rain-dripping darkness there stood 
a man holding before his face the mask of Jutting Chin, a 
grotesque sleuth in the funnies. He emitted a muffled guffaw 
and scurried away, and I reeled back into the room, and 
fell asleep again, and am not sure even to this day that the visit 
was not a drag-provoked dream: I have thoroughly studied 
Trapp’s type of humor, and this might have been a plausible 
sample. Oh, crude and absolutely ruthlessl Somebody, I imag- 
ined, was making money on those masks of popular monsters 
and morons. Did I see next morning two urchins rummaging 
in a garbage can and trying on Jutting Chin? I wonder. It 
may all have been a coincidence— due to atmospheric condi- 
tions, I suppose. 

Being a murderer with a sensational but incomplete and un- 

198 


orthodox memory, I cannot tell yon, ladies and gentlemen, the 
exact day when I first knew with ntter certainty that the red 
convertible was following us. I do remember, however, the first 
time I saw its driver quite clearly. I was proceeding slowly one 
afternoon through torrents of rain and kept seeing that red 
ghost swimming and shivering with lust in my mirror, when 
presently the deluge dwindled to a patteT, and then was sus- 
pended altogether. With a swishing sound a sunburst swept 
the highway, and needing a pair of new sunglasses, I pulled 
up at a filling station. What was happening was a sickness, a 
cancer, that could not be helped, so I simply ignored the fact 
that our quiet pursuer, in his converted state, stopped a little 
behind us at a cafd or bar bearing the idiotic sign: The Bustle: 
A Deceitful Seatful. Having seen to the needs of my car, I 
walked into the office to get those glasses and pay for the gas. 
As I was in the act of signing a travellers' check and wondered 
about my exact whereabouts, I happeued to glance through 
a side window, and saw a terrible thing. A broad-backcd man, 
baldish, in an oatmeal coat and dark-brown trousers, was lis- 
tening to Lo who was leaning out of the car and tailing to 
him very' rapidly, heT hand with outspread fingers going up 
and down as it did when she was very serious and emphatic. 
What struck me with sickening force was — how should I put 
it? — the voluble familiarity' of her way, as if they had known 
each other — oh, for weeks and weeks. I saw him scratch his 
cheek and nod, and turn, and walk back to his convertible, s 
broad and thickish man of my age, somewhat resembling 
Gustave Trapp, a cousin of my father’s in Switzerland — same 
smoothly tanned face, fuller than mine, with a small dark mus- 
tache and a rosebud degenerate mouth. Lolita was studying a 
road map when I got bad: into the cur. 

“What did that man ask you, Lo?" 

“Man? Oh, that man. Oh yes. Oh, I don’t know. He won- 
dered if I had a map. Lost his way, I guess.” 

We drove on, and I said: 

“Now listen, Lo. I do not know whether yen ere Ling or 
not, and I do not know whether you arc insane or not. end I 
do not care for the moment; but that person has been foliar.-- 
ing us all day, and his car was at the motel yesterday, and I 
think he is a cop. You know perfectly well what will happen 
and where you will go if the police find out about thin,;;. Now 
I wont to know erectly whet he said to }ou and what you 
told him.” 


19 ? 



She laughed. 

"If he's really a cop,” she said shrilly but not iHogically, “the 
worst thing we could do, would be to show him we are scared. 
Ignore him, Dad.” 

"Did he ash where we were going?” 

“Oh, he knows that” (mocking me) . 

“Anyway,” I said, giving up, "I have seen his face now. He 
is not pretty. He looks exactly like a relative of mine called 
Trapp.” 

“Perhaps he is Trapp. If I were you — Oh, look, all the nines 
are changing into the next thousand. When I was a little kid,” 
she continued unexpectedly, “I used to think they’d stop and 
go back to nines, if only my mother agreed to put the car 
in reverse.” 

It was the first time, I think, she spoke spontaneously of her 
pre-Humbertian childhood; perhaps, the theatre had taught 
her that trick; and silently we travelled on, unpursued. 

But next day, like pain in a fatal disease that comes back 
as the drug and hope wear off, there it was again behind us, 
that glossy red beast. The traffic on the highway was light that 
day; nobody passed anybody; and nobody attempted to get 
in between our humble blue car and its imperious red shadow 
— as if there were some spell cast on that interspace, a zone 
of evil mirth and magic, a zone whose very precision and sta- 
bility had a glass-like virtue that was almost artistic. The 
driver behind me, with his stuffed shoulders and Trappish 
mustache, looked like a display dummy, and his convertible 
seemed to move only because an invisible rope of silent silk 
connected it with our shabby vehicle. We were many times 
weaker than his splendid, lacquered machine, so that I did 
not even attempt to outspeed him. O lente cunite noctis equil 
O softly run, nightmares! We climbed long grades and rolled 
downhill again, and heeded speed limits, and spared slow 
children, and reproduced in sweeping terms the black wiggles 
of curves on their yellow shields, and no matter how and 
where we drove, the enchanted interspace slid on intact, 
mathematical, mirage-like, the viatic counterpart of a magic 
carpet. And all the time I was aware of a private blaze on my 
right: her joyful eye, her flaming cheek. 

A traffic policeman, deep in the nightmare of crisscross 
streets — at half-past-four p.m. in a factory town — was the 
hand of chance that interrupted the spell. He beckoned me 

200 



on, and then with the same hand cut off my shadow. A score 
of cars were launched in between us, and I sped on, and deftly 
turned into a narrow lane. A sparrow alighted with a jumbo 
bread crumb, was taclded by another, and lost the crumb. 

When after a few grim stoppages and a bit of deliberate 
meandering, I returned to the highway, our shadow had dis- 
appeared. 

Lola snorted and said: "If he is what you think he is, how 
silly to give him the slip.” 

"I have other notions by now,” I said. 

"You should — ah— check them by — ah — keeping in tench 
with him, fahther deah,” said Lo, writhing in the coils of her 
own sarcasm. "Gee, you are mean,” she added in her ordinary 
voice. 

We spent a grim night in a very foul cabin, under a 
sonorous amplitude of rain, and with a land of prchistorically 
loud thunder incessantly rolling above us. 

"I am not a lady and do not like lightning,” said Lo, whose 
dread of electric storms gave me some pathetic solace. 

We had breakfast in the township of Soda, pop. 1091. 

"Judging by the terminal figure,” I remarked, "Fatfaec 
is already here." 

“Your humor,” said Lo, "is sidesplitting, dcab fahther.” 

We were in sage-brush country by that time, and there war 
z day or two of lovely release (I had been a fool, all was well, 
that discomfort was merely a trapped flatus), and presently 
the mesas gave way to real mountains, and, on time, vc drove 
into Wacc. 

Oh, disaster. Some confusion had occurred, she had m bread 
fi date in the Tour Book, and the Marie Cave ceremonies were 
over! She took it b rarely, I must admit — and, when we dis- 
covered there was in lcurortish Wace a summer theatre in full 
ruing, we naturally drifted toward it one fair mid-June evening. 
I really could not tell you the plot of the play we saw. A trivial 
affair, no doubt, with self-conscious light effects and a m:di- 
oerc leading lady. The only detail that pleased me wc> r*r- 
land of seven little graces, more or less immobile, prettily 
painted, barclimbed — seven bemused pubescent iritis in c.b 
ored gaur.c that had been recruited locally (judging by the 
partisan flurry here and there among the audience 1 end ear 
supposed to represent a living rainbow, which lingered thteerh- 
out the last act, and rather trcs-incly faced behind a tree, e: 

291 ~ 



multiplied veils. I remember thinking that this idea of chil- 
dren-colors had been lifted by authors Clare Quilty and Vivian 
Darkbloom from a passage in James Joyce, and that two of the 
colors were quite exasperatingly lovely — Orange who kept 
fidgeting all the time, and Emerald who, when her eyes got 
used to the pitch-black pit where we all heavily sat, suddenly 
smiled at her mother or her protector. 

As soon as the thing was over, and manual applause — a 
sound my nerves cannot stand — began to crash all around me, 

I started to pull and push Lo toward the exit, in my so natural 
amorous impatience to get her back to our neon-blue cottage 
in the stunned, starry night: I always say nature is stunned by 
the sights she sees. Dolly-Lo, however, lagged behind, in a | 
rosy daze, her pleased eyes narrowed, her sense of vision 
swamping the rest of her senses to such an extent that her 
limp hands hardly came together at all in the mechanical 
action of clapping they still went through. I had seen that 
kind of thing in children before but, by God, this was a 
special child, myopically beaming at the already remote stage 
where I glimpsed something of the joint authors — a man’s 
tuxedo and the bare shoulders of a hawklike, black-haired. 
Strikingly tall woman. 

"You’ve again hurt my wrist, you brute,” said Lolita in a 
small voice as she slipped into her car seat. 

"I am dreadfully sorry, my darling, my own ultraviolet dar- 
ling,” I said, unsuccessfully trying to catch her elbow, and I 
added, to change the conversation — to change the direction 
of fate, oh God, oh God: "Vivian is quite a woman. I am 
sure we saw her yesterday in that restaurant, in Soda pop.” 

“Sometimes,” said Lo, "you are quite revoltingly dumb. 
First, Vivian is the male author, the gal author is Clare; and 
second, she is forty, married and has Negro blood.” 

"I thought,” I said kidding her, “Quflty was an ancient 
flame of yours, in the days when you loved me, in sweet old 
Ramsdale.” 

"What?” countered Lo, her features working. “That fat 
dentist? You must be confusing me with some other fast 
little article.” 

And I thought to myself how those fast little articles forget 
everything, everything, while we, old lovers, treasure every inch 
of their nymphancy. 




202 


19 


With Lo's knowledge and assent, the two post offices given 
to the Beardsley postmaster as forwarding addresses were P.O. 
Wace and P.O. Elphinstone. Next morning we visited the 
former and had to wait in a short but slow queue. Serene Lo 
studied the rogues' gallery. Handsome Biyan Bryansld, alias 
Anthony Bryan, alias Tony Brown, eyes hazel, complexion 
fair, was wanted for kidnaping. A sad-eyed old gentleman's 
faux-pas was mail fraud, and, as if that were not enough, he 
was cursed with deformed arches. Sullen Sullivan came with 
a caution: Is believed armed, and should be considered ex- 
tremely dangerous. If you want to make a movie out of my 
book, have one of these faces gently melt into my own, while 
I look. And moreover there was a smudgy snapshot of a 
Missing Girl, age fourteen, wearing brown shoes when last 
seen, rhymes. Please notify Sheriff Buffer. 

I forget my letters; as to Dolly's, there was her report and 
a very special-looking envelope. This I deliberately -opened 
and perused its contents. I concluded I was doing the foreseen 
since she did not seem to mind and drifted toward the news- 
stand near the exit 

"Dolly-Lo: Well, the play was a grand success. AD three 
hounds lay quiet having been slightly drugged by Cutler, I 
suspect, and Linda knew all your lines. She was fine, she had 
alertness and control, but lacked somehow the responsiveness, 
the relaxed vitality, the charm of my — and the author’s — 
» Diana; but there was no author to applaud us as last time, 
and the terrific electric storm outside interfered with our own 
modest off-stage thunder. Oh dear, life does fly. Now that 
everything is over, school, play, the Roy mess, mother’s con- 
finement (our baby, alas, did not live!), it all seems such a 
Iona .time ago, though practically I still bear traces of the paint. 

v 77e are going to New York after to-morrow, and I guess I 
can’t manage to wriggle out of accompanying my parents to 
Europe. I have even worse news for you, Dolly-Lo! I may not 
be back at Beardsley if and when you return. With one thing 
and another, one being you know who, and the other not being 

203 



who you think you know. Dad wants me to go to school in 
Paris for one year while he and Fullbright axe around.. 

“As expected, poor Poet stumbled in Scene III when arriving 
at the bit of French nonsense. Remember? Ne manque pas de 
dire k ton am ant, Chim&ne, comme le lac est beau car il faut 
qu'il t'y mkne. Lucky beau! Qu’il t’y — What a tongue-twister! 
Well, be good, Lollikins. Best love from your Poet, and best 
regards to the Governor. Your Mona. P. S. Because of one 
thing and another, my correspondence happens to be rigidly 
controlled. So better wait till I write you from Europe.” (She 
never did as far as I know. The letter contained an element of 
mysterious nastiness that I am too tired to-day to analyze. I 
found it later preserved in one of the Tour Books, and give it 
here k tit re documentaire. I read it twice.) 

I looked up from the letter and was about to — There was no 
Lo to behold. While I was engrossed in Mona's witchery, Lo 
had shrugged her shoulders and vanished. "Did you happen 
to see — ” I asked of a hunchback sweeping the floor near the 
entrance. He had, the old lecher. He guessed she had seen 
a friend and had hurried out. I hurried out too. I stopped — she 
had not. I hurried on. I stopped again. It had happened at 
last. She had gone for ever. • , 

In later years I have often wondered why she did not go for 
ever that day. Was it the retentive quality of her new summer 
clothes in my locked car? Was it some unripe particle in some 
general plan? Was it simply because, all things considered, I 
might as well be used to convey her to Elphinstone — the secret 
terminus, anyway? I only know I was quite certain she had left 
me for ever. The noncommittal mauve mountains half encir- 
cling the town seemed to me to swarm with panting, scram- 
bling, laughing, panting Lolitas who dissolved in their haze. A 
big W made of white stones on a steep talus in -the far vista of 
a cross street seemed the very initial of woe. 

The new and beautiful post office I had just emerged from 
stood between a dormant movie house and a conspiracy of 
poplars. The time was 9 a.m. mountain time. The street was 
Main Street I paced its blue side peering at the opposite one: 
charming it into beauty, was one of those fragile young sum- 
mer mornings with flashes of glass here and there and a 
general air of faltering and almost fainting at the prospect 
of an intolerably torrid noon. Crossing over, I loafed and 
leafed, as it were, through one long block: Drugs, Real 
Estate, Fashions, Auto Parts, Cafe, Sporting Goods, Real 

204 


Estate, Furniture, Appliances, Western Union, Cleaners, 
Grocery. Officer, officer, my daughter has run away. In collu- 
sion with a detective; in love with a blackmailer. Took advan- 
tage of my utter helplessness. I peered into all the stores. I 
deliberated only if I should talk to any of the sparse foot- 
passengers. I did not I sat for a while in the parked car. I 
inspected the public garden on the east side. I went back 
to Fashions and Auto Parts. I told myself with a burst of 
furious sarcasm — un ricanement — that I was crazy to suspect 
her, that she would turn up in a minute. 

She did. 

I wheeled around and shook off the hand she had placed 
on my sleeve with a timid and imbecile smile. 

"Get into the car,” I said. 

She obeyed, and I went on pacing up and down, struggling 
with nameless thoughts, trying to plan some way of tackling 
her duplicity. 

Presently she left the car and was at my side again. My 
sense of hearing gradually got tuned in to station Lo again, 
and I became aware she was telling me that she had met a 
former girl friend. 

“Yes? Whom?” 

"A Beardsley girh" 

"Good. I know every name in your group. Alice Adams?” 

"This girl was not in my group.” 

“Good. I have a complete student list with me. Her name 
please.” 

“She was not in my school. She is just a town girl in 
Beardsley.” 

"Good. I have the Beardsley directory with me too. Well 
look up all the Browns.” 

“I only know her first name.” 

"Mary or Jane?" 

"No — Dolly, like me.” 

“So that’s the dead end” (the mirror you break your nose 
against). "Good. Let us try another angle. You have been ab- 
sent twenty-eight minutes. What did the two Dollys do?” 

‘We went to a drugstore.” 

“And you had there — ?” 

“Oh, just a couple of cokes.” 

"Careful, Dolly. We can check that, you know.” 

"At least, she had. I had a glass of water.” 

"Good. Was it that place there?” 

205 



"Sure.” 

"Good, come on, we'll grill the soda jerk." 

"Wait a sec. Come to think it might have been further 
down — just around the comer." 

"Come on all the same. Go in please. Well, let’s see.” 
(Opening a chained telephone book.) "Dignified Funeral 
Service. No, not yet. Here we are: Druggists-Retail. Hill Drug 
Store. Larkin’s Pharmacy. And two more. That’s all Wace 
seems to have in the way of soda fountains — at least in the 
business section. Well, we will check them all.” 

"Go to hell," she said. 

"Lo, rudeness will get you nowhere.” 

"Okay,” she said. "But you’re not going to trap me. Okay, 
so we did not have a pop. We just talked and looked at dresses 
in show windows.” 

"Which? That window there for example?” 

"Yes, that one there, for example.” 

"Oh Lo! Let’s look closer at it” 

It was indeed a pretty sight. A dapper young fellow was 
vacuum-cleaning a carpet of sorts upon which stood two figures 
that looked as if some blast had just worked havoc with them. 
One figure was stark naked, wigless and armless. Its compara- 
tively small stature and smirking pose suggested that when 
clothed it had represented, and would represent when clothed 
again, a girl child of Lolita's size. But in its present state it was 
sexless. Next to it, stood a much taller veiled bride, quite per- 
fect and intacta except for the lack of one arm. On the floor, 
at the feet of these damsels, where the man crawled about 
laboriously with his cleaner, there lay a cluster of three slender 
arms, and a blond wig. Two of the arms happened to be 
twisted and seemed to suggest a clasping gesture of horror 
and supplication. 

"Look, Lo,” I said quietly. "Look well. Is not that a rather 
good symbol of something or other? However” — I went on as 
we got back into the car — "I have taken certain precautions. 
Here (delicately opening the glove compartment), on this 
pad, I have our boy friend’s car number.” 

As the ass I was I had not memorized it. What remained of 
it in my mind were the initial letter and the closing figure as if 
the whole amphitheatre of six signs receded concavely behind a 
tinted glass too opaque to allow the central series to be deci- 
phered, but just translucent enough to make out its extreme 
edges — a capital P and a 6. I have to go into those details 

206 


(which in themselves can interest only a professional psy- 
chologne) because otherwise the reader (ah, if I could vis- 
ualize him as a blond-bearded scholar with rosy lips sucking 
la pomme de sa canne as he quaffs my manuscript!) might 
not understand the quality . of the shock I experienced upon 
noticing that the P had acquired the bustle of a B and that 
the 6 had been deleted altogether. The rest, with erasures 
revealing the hurried shuttle smear of a pencil's rubber end, 
and with parts of numbers obliterated or reconstructed in a 
child’s hand, presented a tangle of barbed wire to any logical 
interpretation. All I knew was the state — one adjacent to the 
state Beardsley was in. 

I said nothing. I put the pad back, closed the compartment, 
and drove out of Wace. Lo had grabbed some comics from 
the back seat and, mobile-white-bloused, one brown elbow out 
of the window, was deep in the current adventure of some 
clout or clown. Three or four miles out of Wace, I turned into 
the shadow of a picnic ground where the morning had dumped 
- its litter of light on an empty table; Lo looked up with a semi- 
smile of surprise and without a word I delivered a tremendous 
backhand cut that caught her smack on her hot hard little 
cheekbone. 

And then the remorse, the poignant sweetness of sobbing 
atonement, groveling love, the hopelessness of sensual recon- 
ciliation. In the velvet night, at Mirana Motel (Miranal) I 
kissed the yellowish soles of her long-toed feet, I immolated 
myself . . . But it was all of no avail. Both doomed were we. 
And soon I was to enter a new cycle of persecution. 

In a street of Wace, on its outskirts . . . Oh, I am quite 
sure it was not a delusion. In a street of Wace, I had glimpsed 
the Aztec Red Convertible, or its identical twin. Instead of 
Trapp, it contained four or fisc loud young people of several 
sexes — -but I said nothing. After Wace a totally new situation 
arose. For a day or two, I enjoyed the mental emphasis with 
which I told myself that we were not, and never had been fol- 
lowed; and then I became sickeningly conscious that Trapp 
had changed his tactics and was still with us, in this or that 
rented car. 

A veritable Proteus of the highway, with bewildering ease 
he switched from one vehicle to another. This technique im- 
plied the existence of garages specializing in “stage-auto- 
mobile” operations, but I neser could discover the remises be 
used. He seemed to patronize at first the Chevrolet genus, 

207 


beginning with a Campus Cream convertible, then going on 
to a small Horizon Blue sedan, and thenceforth fading into 
Surf Gray and Driftwood Gray. Then he turned to other 
malces and passed through a pale dull rainbow of paint shades, 
and one day I found myself attempting to cope with the subtle 
distinction between our own Dream Blue Melmoth and the 
Crest Blue Oldsmobile he had rented; grays, however, re- 
mained his favorite cryptochromism, and, in agonizing night- 
mares, I tried in vain to sort out properly such ghosts as 
Chrysler's Shell Gray, Chevrolet’s Thistle Gray, Dodge's 
French Gray . . . 

The necessity of being constantly on the lookout for his 
little moustache and open shirt — or for his baldish pate and 
broad shoulders — led me to a profound study of all cars on 
the road — behind, before, alongside, coming, going, every 
vehicle under the dancing sun: the quiet vacationist’s auto- 
mobile with the box of Tender-Touch tissues in the back 
window; the recklessly speeding jalopy full of pale children 
with a shaggy dog’s head protruding, and a crumpled mud- 
guard; the bachelor’s tudor sedan crowded with suits on 
hangers; the huge fat house trailer weaving in front, immune 
to the Indian file of fury boiling behind it; the car with the 
young female passenger politely perched in the middle of the 
front seat to be closer to the young male driver; the car carry- 
ing on its roof a red boat bottom up . . . The gray car slowing 
up before us, the gray car catching up with us. 

We were in mountain country, somewhere between Snow 
and Champion, and rolling down an almost imperceptible 
grade, when I had my next distinct view of Detective Para- 
mour Trapp. The gray mist behind us had deepened and 
concentrated into the compactness of a Dominion Blue sedan. 
All of a sudden, as if the car I drove responded to my poor 
heart’s pangs, we were slithering from side to side, with some- 
thing making a helpless plap-plap-plap under us. 

"You got a flat, mister,” said cheerful Lo. 

I pulled up — near a precipice. She folded her arms and put 
her foot on the dashboard. I got out and examined the right 
rear wheel. The base of its tire was sheepishly and hideously 
square. Trapp had stopped some fifty yards behind us. His 
distant face formed a grease spot of mirth. This was my 
chance. I started to walk towards him — with the brilliant idea 
of asking him for a jack though I had one. He backed a little. 
I stubbed my toe against a stone — and there was a sense of 

208 


general laughter. Then a tremendous truck loomed from be- 
hind Trapp and thundered by me — and immediately after, 
I heard it utter a convulsive honk. Instinctively I looked back 
— and saw my own car gently creeping away. I could make out 
Lo ludicrously at the wheel, and the engine was certainly run- 
ning — though I remembered I had cut it but had not applied 
the emergency brake; and during the brief space of throb- 
time that it took me to reach the croaking machine which 
came to a standstill at last, it dawned upon me that during 
the last two years little Lo had had ample time to pick up 
the rudiments of driving. As I wrenched the door open, I 
was goddam sure she had started the car to prevent me from 
walking up to Trapp, Her trick proved useless, however, for 
even while I was pursuing her he had made an energetic U- 
tum and was gone. I rested for a while. Lo asked wasn’t I 
going to thank her — the car had started to move by itself and 
— Getting no answer, she immersed herself in a study of the 
. map. I got out again and commenced the “ordeal of the orb,” 
as Charlotte used to say. Perhaps, I was losing my mind. 

We continued our grotesque journey. After a forlorn and 
useless dip, we went up and up. On a steep grade I found 
myself behind the gigantic track that had overtaken us. It was 
now groaning up a winding road and was impossible to pass. 
Out of its front part a small oblong of smooth silver — the 
inner wrapping of chewing gum — escaped and flew back into 
our windshield. It occurred to me that if I were really losing 
my mind, I might end by murdering somebody. In fact — said 
high-and-dry Humbert to floundering Humbert — it might he 
quite clever to prepare things — to transfer the weapon from 
'box to pocket — so as to be ready to take advantage of the 
spell of insanity when it does come. 


20 


By PERMnrtNC Lolita to study acting I had, fond fool, 
suffered her to cultivate deceit. It now appeared that it had 
not been merely a matter of learning the answers to such 
questions as what is the basic conflict in “Hedda Gabler," 
or where are the climaxes in “Love Under the Lindens," or 

209 



analyze the prevailing mood of “Cherry Orchard"; it was 
really a matter of learning to betray me. How I deplored now 
the exercises in sensual simulation that I had so often seen 
her go through in our Beardsley parlor when I would observe 
her from some strategic point while she, like a hypnotic sub- 
ject or a performer in a mystic rite, produced sophisticated 
versions of infantile make-believe by going through the mi- 
metic actions of hearing a moan in the dark, seeing for the 
first time a brand new young stepmother, tasting something ' 
she hated, such as buttermilk, smelling crushed grass in a 
lush orchard, or touching mirages of objects with her sly, 
slender, girl-child hands. Among my papers I still have a 
mimeographed sheet suggesting: 

“Tactile drill. Imagine yourself picking up and holding: 
a pingpong ball, an apple, a sticky date, a new flannel- 
fluffed tennis ball, a hot potato, an ice cube, a kitten, a 
puppy, a horseshoe, a feather, a torchlight. 

Knead with your fingers the following imaginary things: 
a piece of bread, india rubber, a friend’s aching temple, a 
sample of velvet, a rose petal. 

You are a blind girl. Palpate the face of: a Greek youth, 
Cyrano, Santa Claus, a baby, a laughing faun, a sleeping 
stranger, your father." 

But she had been so pretty in the weaving of those delicate 
spells, in the dreamy performance of her enchantments and 
dutiesl On certain adventurous evenings, in Beardsley, I also 
had her dance for me with the promise of some treat or gift, 
and although these routine leg-parted leaps of hers were more 
like those of a football cheerleader than like the languorous 
and jerky motions of a Parisian petit rat, the rhythms of her 
not quite nubile limbs had given me pleasure. But all that was 
nothing, absolutely nothing, to the indescribable itch of rap- 
ture that her tennis game produced in me — the teasing delir- 
ious feeling of teetering on the very brink of unearthly order 
and splendor. 

Despite her advanced age, she was more of a nyrophet than 
ever, with her apricot-colored limbs, in her sub-teen tennis 
togs! Winged gentlemen! No hereafter is acceptable if it does 
not produce her as she was then, in that Colorado resort be- 
tween Snow and Elphinstone, with everything right: the white 
wade little-boy shorts, the slender waist, the apricot midriff, 

210 


the white breast-kerchief whose ribbons went up and encircled 
her neck to end behind in a dangling knot leaving bare her 
gaspingly young and adorable apricot shoulder blades with 
that pubescence and those lovely gentle bones, and the 
smooth, downward-tapering bade. Her cap had a white peak. 

Her racket had cost me a small fortune. Idiot, triple idiot! 

I could have filmed her! I would have had her now with me, 
before my eyes, in the projection room of my pain and de- 
spair. 

She would wait and relax for a bar or two of white-lined time 
before going into the act of serving, and often bounced the 
ball once or twice, or pawed the ground a little, always at 
ease, always rather vague about the score, always cheerful as 
she so seldom was in foe dark life she led at home. Her tennis 
was foe highest point to which I can imagine a young creature 
bringing foe art of make-believe, although I daresay, for her 
it was foe very geometry of basic reality. 

The exquisite clarity of all her movements had its auditory 
counterpart in the pure ringing sound of her every stroke. The 
ball when it entered her aura of control became somehow 
whiter, its resilience somehow richer, and foe instrument of 
precision she used upon it seemed inordinately prehensile 
and deliberate at the moment of clinging contact. Her form 
was, indeed, an absolutely perfect imitation of absolutely top- 
notch tennis — without any utilitarian results. As Edusa’s sister, 
Electra Gold, a marvelous young coach, said to me once while 
I sat on a pulsating hard bench watching Dolores Haze toying 
with Linda Hall (and being beaten by her): “Dolly has a 
magnet in foe center of her racket guts, but why the heck is 
she so polite?” Ah, Electra, what did it matter, with such 
grace! I remember at foe very first game I watched being 
drenched with an almost painful convulsion of beauty assimi- 
lation. My Lolita had a way of raising her bent left knee at 
foe ample and springy start of foe service cycle when there 
would develop and hang in foe sun for a second a vital web j 

of balance between toed foot, pristine armpit, burnished arm r 

and far back-flung racket, as she smiled up with gleaming 
teeth at foe small globe suspended so high in foe zenith of | 

foe powerful and graceful cosmos she had created for the j 

express purpose of fallin g upon it with a clean resounding j 
crack of her golden whip. i 

It had, that serve of hers, beauty, directness, youth, a classi- { 
cal purity of trajectory, and was, despite its spanking pace, ; 

211 i 


fairly easy to return, having as it did no twist or sting to its 
long elegant hop. 

That I could have had all her strokes, all her enchantments, 
immortalized in segments of celluloid, makes me moan to-day 
with frustration. They would have been so much more than 
the snapshots I burned! Her overhead volley was related to her 
service as the envoy is to the ballade; for she had been trained, 
my pet, to patter up at once to the net on her nimble, vivid, 
white-shod feet. There was nothing to choose between her 
forehand and backhand drives: they were mirror images of one 
another — my very loins still tingle with those pistol re- 
ports repeated by crisp echoes and Electra's cries. One of the 
pearls of Dolly’s game was a short half-volley that Ned Litam 
had taught her in California. 

She preferred acting to swimming, and swimming to tennis; 
yet I insist that had not something within her been broken by 
me — not that I realized it then! — she would have had on the 
top of her perfect form the will to win, and would have be- 
come a real girl champion. Dolores, with two rackets under 
her arm, in Wimbledon. Dolores endorsing a Dromedary. 
Dolores turning professional. Dolores acting a girl champion 
in a movie. Dolores and her gray, humble, hushed husband- 
coach, old Humbert. 

There was nothing wrong or deceitful in the spirit of her 
game — unless one considered her cheerful indifference toward 
its outcome as the feint of a nymphet. She who was so cruel 
and crafty in everyday life, revealed an innocence, a frankness, 
a kindness of ball-placing, that permitted a second-rate but 
determined player, no matter how uncouth and incompetent, 
to poke and cut his way to victory. Despite her small stature, 
she covered the one thousand and fifty three square feet of 
her half of the court with wonderful ease, once she had 
entered into the rhythm of a rally and as long as she could 
direct that rhythm; but any abrupt attack, or sudden change 
of tactics on her adversary's part, left her helpless. At match 
point, her second serve, which — rather typically — was even 
stronger and more stylish than her first (for she had none of 
the inhibitions that cautious winners have), would strike 
vibrantly the harp-cord of the net — and ricochet out of court. 
The polished gem of her dropshot was snapped up and put 
away by an opponent who seemed four-legged and wielded a 
crooked paddle. Her dramatic drives and lovely volleys would 
candidly fall at his feet. Over and over again she would land 

212 



an easy one into the net — and merrily mimic dismay by droops 
ing in a ballet attitude, with her forelocks' hanging. So sterile 
were her grace and whipper that she could not even win from 
panting me and my old-fashioned lifting drive. 

I suppose I am especially susceptible to the magic of games. 
In my chess sessions with Gaston I saw the board as a square 
pool of limpid water with rare shells and stratagems rosily 
visible upon the smooth tessellated bottom, which to my con- 
fused adversary was all ooze and squid-cloud. Similarly, the 
initial tennis coaching I had inflicted on Lolita — prior to the 
revelations that came to her through the great Californian’s 
lessons — remained in my mind as oppressive and distressful 
memories — not only because she had been so hopelessly and 
irritatingly irritated by every suggestion of mine — but because 
the precious symmetry of the court instead of reflecting the 
harmonies latent in her was utterly jumbled by the clumsiness 
and lassitude of the resentful child I mistaught. Now things 
were different, and on that particular day, in the pure air of 
Champion, Colorado, on that admirable court at the foot of 
steep stone stairs leading up to Champion Hotel where we 
had spent the night, I felt I could rest from the nightmare 
of unknown betrayals within the innocence of her style, of her 
soul, of her essential grace. 

She was hitting hard and flat, with her usual effortless sweep, 
feeding me deep skimming balls — all so rhythmically coordi- 
nated and overt as to reduce my footwork to, practically, a 
swinging stroll — crack players will understand what I mean. 
My rather heavily cut serve that I had been taught by my 
father who had learned it from Decugis or Borman, old friends 
of his and great champions, would have seriously troubled my 
Lo, had I really tried to trouble her. But who would upset such 
a lucid dear? Did I ever mention that her bare arm bore the 8 
of vaccination? That I loved her hopelessly? That she was only 
fourteen? 

An inquisitive butterfly passed, dipping, between us. 

_ Two people in tennis shorts, a red-haired fellow only about 
eight years my junior, with sunburnt bright pink shins, and an 
indolent dark girl with a moody mouth and hard eyes, about 
two yean Lolita's senior, appeared from nowhere. As is com- 
mon with dutiful tyros, their rackets were sheathed and 
framed, and they carried them riot as if they were the natural 
and comfortable extensions of certain specialized muscles, 
but h a mm ers or blunderbusses or wimbles, or my own dread- 

213 



ful cumbersome sins. Rather unceremoniously seating them- 
selves near my precious coat, on a bench adjacent to the court, 
they fell to admiring very vocally a rally of some fifty ex- 
changes that Lo innocently helped me to foster and uphold — 
until there occurred a syncope in the series causing her to 
gasp as her overhead smash went out of court, whereupon she 
melted into winsome merriment, my golden pet 

I felt thirsty by then, and walked to the drinking fountain; 
there Red approached me and in all humility suggested a 
mixed double. “I am Bill Mead,” he said. “And that’s Fay 
Page, actress. MafEy On Say” — he added (pointing with his 
ridiculously hooded racket at polished Fay who was already 
talking to Dolly). I was about to reply “Sony, but — ” (for I 
hate to have my filly involved in the chops and jabs of cheap 
bunglers), when a remarkably melodious cry diverted my at- 
tention: a bellboy was tripping down the steps from the hotel 
to our court and making me signs. I was wanted, if you 
please, on an urgent long distance call — so urgent in fact that 
the line was being held for me. Certainly. I got into my coat 
(inside pocket heavy with pistol) and told Lo I would be back 
in a minute. She was picking up a ball — in the continental 
foot-racket way which was one of the few nice things I had 
taught her, — and smiled — she smiled at mel 

An awful calm kept my heart afloat as I followed the boy up 
to the hotel. This, to use an American term, in which discov- 
ery, retribution, torture, death, eternity appear in the shape 
of a singularly repulsive nutshell, was it. I had left her in 
mediocre hands, but it hardly mattered now. I would fight, ' 
of course. Oh, I would fight Better destroy everything than 
surrender her. Yes, quite a climb. 

At the desk, a dignified, Roman-nosed man, with, I suggest 
a very obscure past that might reward investigation, handed 
me a message in his own hand. The line had not been held 
after all. The note said: 

"Mr Humbert The head of Birdsley (sic!) School called. 
Summer residence — Birdsley 2-8282. Please call back immedi- 
ately. Highly important” 

I folded myself into a booth, took a little pill, and for about 
twenty minutes tussled with space-spooks. A quartet of propo- 
sitions gradually became audible: soprano, there was no such 
number in Beardsley; alto, Miss Pratt was on her way to 
England; tenor, Beardsley School had not telephoned; bass, 

214 


they could not have done so, since nobody knew I was, that 
particular day, in Champion, Colo. Upon my stinging him, 
the Roman took the trouble to find out if there had been a 
long distance calk There had been none. A fake call from 
some local dial was not excluded. I thanked him. He said: You 
bet After a visit to the purling men's room and a stiff drink 
at the bar, I started on my return march. From the very first 
terrace I saw, far below, on the tennis court which seemed the 
size of a school child's Si-wiped slate, golden Lolita playing 
in a double. She moved like a fair angel among three horrible 
Boschian cripples. One of these, her partner, while changing 
' sides, jocosely slapped her on her behind with his racket. He 
had a remarkably round head and wore incongruous brown 
trousers. There was a momentary flurry — he saw me, and 
throwing away his racket — mine! — scuttled up the slope. He 
waved his wrists and elbows in would-be comical imitation 
of rudimentary wings, as he climbed, bow-legged, to the street, 
where his gray car awaited him. Next moment he and the gray- 
ness were gone. When I came down, the remaining trio were 
collecting and sorting out the balls. 

"Mr. Mead, who was that person?” 

Bill and Fay, both looking very solemn, shook their heads. 

That absurd intruder had butted in to make up a double, 
hadn’t he, Dolly? 

Dolly. The handle of my racket was still disgustingly warm. 
Before returning to the hotel, I ushered her into a little alley 
half-smothered in fragrant shrubs, with flowers like smoke, 
and was about to burst into ripe sobs and plead with her un- 
perturbed dream in the most abject maimer for clarification, 
no matter how meretricious, of the slow awfulness envelop- 
ing me, when we found ourselves behind the convulsed Mead 
twosome — assorted people, you know, meeting among idyllic 
settings in old comedies. Bill and Fay were both weak with 
laughter — we had come at the end of their private joke. It did 
not really matter. 

Speaking as if it really did not really matter, and assuming, 
apparently, that life was automatically rolling on with all its 
routine pleasures Dolores said she would like to change into 
her bathing things, and spend the rest of the afternoon at 
the swimming pooh It was a gorgeous day. Lolita! 


215 



21 


“Lol Lola! Lolita!” I hear myself crying from a doorway into 
the sun, with the acoustics of time, domed time, endowing my 
call and its tell-tale hoarseness with such a wealth of anxiety, 
passion and pain that really it would have been instrumental in 
wrenching open the zipper of her nylon shroud had she been 
dead. Lolita! In the middle of a trim turfed terrace I found her 
at last — she had run out before I was ready. Oh Lolita! There 
she was playing with a damned dog, not me. The animal, a 
terrier of sorts, was losing and snapping up again and adjust- 
ing between his jaws a wet little red ball; he took rapid chords 
with his front paws on the resilient turf, and then would 
bounce away. I had only wanted to see where she was, I could 
not swim with my heart in that state, but who cared — and 
there she was, and there was I, in my robe — and so I stopped 
calling;, but suddenly something in the pattern of her motions, 
as she dashed this way and that in her Aztec Red bathing 
briefs and bra, struck me . . . there was an ecstasy, a madness 
about her frolics that was too much of a glad thing. Even the 
dog seemed puzzled by the extravagance of her reactions. I 
put a gentle hand to my chest as I surveyed the situation. 
The turquoise blue swimming pool some distance behind the 
lawn was no longer behind that lawn, but within my thorax, 
and my organs swam in it like excrements in the blue sea water 
in Nice. One of the bathers had left the pool and, half-con- 
cealed by the peacocked shade of trees, stood quite still, hold- 
ing the ends of the towel around his neck and following Lolita 
with his amber eyes. There he stood, in the camouflage of 
sun and shade, disfigured by them and masked by his own 
nakedness, his damp black hair or what was left of it, glued 
to his round head, his little mustache a humid smear, the 
wool on his chest spread like a symmetrical trophy, his navel 
pulsating, his hirsute thighs dripping with bright droplets, 
his tight wet black bathing trunks bloated and bursting with 
■vigor where his great fat bullybag was pulled up and back 
like a padded shield over his reversed beasthood. And as I 
looked at his oval nut-brown face, it dawned upon me that 
what I had recognized him by was the reflection of my daugh- 
ter s countenance — the same beatitude and g rima ce but made 

216 


hideous by 1 

«« ghsM^Ss &s2s 

gost) Hie m '‘° 'If^ aoed agarnst i W > . aftOT aris a 
Sd "Th^td F *ps shivered- fa>“f longer the 
tude of dapp nnation took place. ’c^iss cousin,- the 

marvelous banrfO oJ-natuted audfoohshS ^ who used 

satyr but a very B mentl oned more tn &e g00 d 

Gustave Trapp 1 „ ( be drank beer grunting on 

to counteract bis r^g^t-lifting— totten g £ bat hing suit 
swine) by f f ats . , bis otherwise very co P n oticed me 
a lake beach with h« om ^ This TmpP d bact 

jauntily stnppedjrom towe l o» ?g e ha d gone 

from afar and workmg ol And as ^ oring the 

with false ^f^lTckened and ^ ^ **a 

out of the game, L# , ^ before her./V/ . a ro mp? 

Srtb^teare e caused m * e *££ 

tTVS i sphered 

StoS- to , seyes and they seemed to 

ffiaSSSf Ss£! “ 

I felt strong enough 
doctor believed). 


22 


c*i *pT Court* 



I am not referring to Trapp or Trapps. After all — well, really 
. . . After all, gentlemen, it was becoming abundantly clear 
that all those identical detectives in prismatically changing 
cars were figments of my persecution mania, recurrent images 
based on coincidence and chance resemblance. Soyons logi- 
ques, crowed the cocky Gallic part of my brain — and pro 
( ceeded to rout the notion of a Lolita-maddened salesman or 
comedy gangster, with stooges, persecuting me, and hoaxing 
me, and otherwise taking riotous advantage of my strange 
relations with the law. I remember humming my panic away. 
I remember evolving even an explanation of the “Birdsley” 
telephone call . . . But if I could dismiss Trapp, as I had 
dismissed my convulsions on the lawn at Champion, I could 
do nothing with the anguish of knowing Lolita to be so tan- 
talizingly, so miserably unattainable and beloved on the very 
eve of a new era, when my alembics told me she should stop 
being a nymphet, stop torturing me. 

An additional, abominable, and perfectly gratuitous worry 
was lovingly prepared for me in Elphinstone. Lo had been dull 
and silent during the last lap — two hundred mountainous 
miles uncontaminated by smoke-gray sleuths or zigzagging 
zanies. She hardly glanced at the famous, oddly shaped, splen- 
didly flushed rock which jutted above the mountains and had 
been the take-off for nirvana on the part of a temperamental 
show girl. The town was newly built, or rebuilt, on the flat 
floor of a seven-thousand foot high valley; it would soon bore 
Lo, I hoped, and we would spin on to California, to the 
Mexican border, to mythical bays, saguaro deserts, fatamor- 
ganas. }os6 Lizzarrabengoa, as you remember, planned to take 
his Carmen to the E tats Unis. I conjured up a Central Amer- 
ican tennis competition in which Dolores Haze and various 
Californian schoolgirl champions would dazzlingly participate. 
Good-will tours on that smiling level eliminate the distinction 
between passport and sport Why did I hope we would be 
happy abroad? A change of environment is the traditional 
fallacy upon which doomed loves, and lungs, rely. 

Mrs. Hays, the brisk, brickly rouged, blue-eyed widow who 
ran the motor court, asked me if I were Swiss perchance, be- 
cause her sister had married a Swiss ski instructor. I was, 
whereas my daughter happened to be half Irish. I registered. 
Hays gave me the key and a twinkling smile, and, still twin- 
kling, showed me where to park the car; Lo crawled out and 
shivered a little: the luminous evening air was decidedly crisp. 

218 


Upon entering the cabin, she sat down on a chair at a card 
table, buried her face in the crook of her arm and said she 
felt awful. Shamming, I thought, s hamm ing, no doubt, to 
evade my caresses; I was passionately parched; but she be- 
gan to whimper in an unusually dreary way when I attempted 
to fondle her. Lolita iH. Lolita dying. Her skin was scalding 
hotl I took her temperature, orally, then looked up a scribbled 
formula I fortunately had in a jotter and after laboriously re- 
ducing the, meaningless to me, degrees Fahrenheit to the 
intimate centigrade of my childhood, found she had 40.4, 
which at least made sense. Hysterical little nymphs might, I 
knew, run up all kinds of temperature — even exceeding a 
fetal count. And I would have given her a sip of hot spiced 
wine, and two aspirins, and kissed the fever away, if, upon 
an examination of her lovely uvula, one of the gems of her 
body, I bad not' seen that it was a burning red. I undressed 
her. Her breath was bittersweet Her brown rose tasted of 
blood. She was shaking from head to toe. She complained of 
a painful stiffness in the upper vertebrae — and I thought of 
poliomyelitis as any American parent, would. Giving up all 
hope of intercourse, I wrapped her up in a laprobe and carried 
her into the car. Kind Mrs. Hays in the meantime had alerted 
the local doctor. "You are lucky it happened here,” she said; 
for not only was Blue the best man in the district but the 
Elphinstone hospital was as modem as modem could be, de- 
spite its limited capacity. With a heterosexual Erlkonig in pur- 
suit, thither I drove, half-blinded by a royal sunset on the 
lowland side and guided by a little old woman, a portable 
witch, perhaps his daughter, whom Mrs. Hays had lent me, 
and whom I was never to see again. Dr. Blue, whose learning, 
no doubt, was infinitely inferior to his reputation, assured me 
it was a virus infection, and when I alluded to her compara- 
tively recent flu, curtly said this was another bug, he bad 
forty such cases on his hands; all of which sounded like the 
“ague” of the ancients. I wondered if I should mention, with 
a casual chuckle, that my fifteen-year-old daughter had had a 
minor accident while climbing an awkward fence with her boy 
friend, but knowing I was drunk, I decided to withhold the 
information till later if necessary. To an unsmiling blond bitch 
of a secretary I gave my daughters age as “practically sixteen.” 
While I was not looking, my child was taken away from mel 
In vain I insisted I be allowed to spend the night on a "wel- 
come” mat in a comer of their damned hospitaL I ran up 

219 



constructivistic flights of stairs, I tried to trace my darling so as 
to tell her she had better not babble, especially if she felt as 
lightheaded as we all did. At one point, I was rather dreadfully 
rude to a very young and very cheeky nurse with overdeveloped 
gluteal parts and blazing black eyes — of Basque descent, as I 
learned. Her father was an imported shepherd, a trainer of 
sheep dogs. Finally, I returned to the car and remained in it 
for I do not know how many hours, hunched up in the dark, 
stunned by my new solitude, looking out open-mouthed now 
at the dimly illumed, very square and low hospital building 
squatting in the middle of its lawny block, now up at the 
wash of stars and the jagged silvery ramparts of the haute 
montagne where at the moment Mary's father, lonely Joseph 
Lore, was dreaming of Oloron, Lagore, Rolas — que sais-jeJ — 
or seducing a ewe. Such-like fragrant vagabond thoughts have 
been always a solace to me in times of unusual stress, and only 
when, despite liberal libations, I felt fairly numbed by the 
endless night, did I think of driving back to the motel. The old 
woman had disappeared, and I was not quite sure of my way. 
Wide gravel roads criss-crossed drowsy rectangular shadows. I 
made out what looked like the silhouette of gallows on what 
was probably a school playground; and in another wastelike 
block there rose in domed silence the pale temple of some local 
sect I found the highway at last, and then the motel, where 
millions of so-called “millers,” a kind of insect, were swarming 
around the neon contours of "No Vacancy”; and, when, at 
3 a.m., after one of those untimely hot showers which like 
some mordant only help to fix a man's despair and weariness, 
I lay on her bed that smelled of chestnuts and roses, and pep- 
permint, and the very delicate, very special French perfume 
I latterly allowed her to use, I found myself unable to assimi- 
late the simple fact that for the first time in two years I was 
separated from my Lolita. AH at once it occurred to me that 
her Alness was somehow the development of a theme- — that 
it had the same taste and tone as the series of linked im- 
pressions which had puzzled and tormented me during our 
journey; I imagined that secret agent, or secret lover, or 
prankster, or hallucination, or whatever he was, prowling 
around the hospital — and Aurora had hardly "wanned her 
hands,” as the pickers of lavender say in the country of my 
birth, when I found myself trying to get into that dungeon 
again, knocking upon its green doors, breakfastless, stool-less, 
in despair. 


220 


, This was Tuesday, and Wednesday or Thursday, splendidly 
reacting like the darling she was to some "serum” (sparrow’s 
sperm or dugong’s dung) , she was much better, and the doctor 
said that in a couple of days she would be "skipping” again. 

Of the eight times I visited her, the last one alone remains 
sharply engraved on my mind. It had been a great feat to come 
for I felt all hollowed out by the infection that by then was 
at work on me too. None will know the strain it was to carry 
that bouquet, that load of love, those books that I had trav- 
eled sixty miles to buy; Browning’s Dramatic Works, The 
History of Dancing, Clowns and Columbines, The Russian 
Ballet, Flowers of the Rockies, The Theatre Guild Anthology, 
Tennis by Helen Wills, who bad won the National Junior 
Girl Singles at the age of fifteen. As I was staggering up to 
the door of my daughter’s tbiiteen-doHar-a-day private room, 
Mary Lore, the beastly young part-time nurse who had taken 
an unconcealed dislike to me, emerged with a finished break- 
fast tray, placed it with a quick crash on a chair in the cor- 
ridor, and, fundament figging, shot back into the room — 
probably to warn her poor little Dolores that the tyrannic old 
father was creeping up on crepe soles, with books and bou- 
quet; the latter I had composed of wild flowers and beautiful 
leaves gathered with my own gloved hands on a mountain 
pass at sunrise (I hardly slept at all that fateful week) . 

Feeding my Carmencita web? Idly I glanced at the tray. 
On a yolk-stained plate there was a crumpled envelope. It had 
contained something, since one edge was tom, but there was 
no address on it — nothing at all, save a phony armorial design 
with ‘Tonderosa Lodge” in green letters; thereupon I per- 
formed a chassg-croisd with Mary, who was in the act of 
bustling out again — wonderful how fast they move and how 
little they do, those rumpy young nurses. She glowered at the 
envelope I had put back, uncrumpled. 

“You better not touch,” she said, nodding directionally. 
"Could bum your fingers.” 

Below my dignity to rejoin. All I said was: 

"Je croyais que c'dtait rm bill — not a billet doux.” Then, 
entering the sunny room, to Lolita: “Bonjour, mon petit.” 

“Dolores,” said Mary Lore, entering with me, past me, 
through me, the plump whore, and blinking, and starting to 
fold very rapidly a white flannel blanket as she blinked: 
"Dolores, your pappy thinks you are getting letters from my 
boy friend. It's me (smugly tapping herself on the small gilt 

221 



cross she wore) gets them. And my pappy can parlay-voo as 
well as yours.” 

She left the room. Dolores, so rosy and russet, lips freshly 
painted, hair brilliantly brushed, bare arms straightened out 
on neat coverlet, lay innocently beaming at me or nothing. 
On the bed table, next to a paper napkin and a pencil, her 
topaz ring burned in the sun. 

“What gruesome funeral flowers,” she said. “Thanks all the 
same. But do you mind very much cutting out the French? It 
annoys everybody.” 

Back at the usual rush came the ripe young hussy, reeking 
of urine and garlic, with the Deseret News, which her fair 
patient eagerly accepted, ignoring the sumptuously illustrated 
volumes I had brought 

“My sister Ann,” said Mary (topping information with 
afterthought) “works at the Ponderosa place.” 

Poor Bluebeard. Those brutal brothers. Est-ce que tu ne 
m’aimes plus, ma Carmen? She never had. At the moment I 
knew my love was as hopeless as ever — -and I also knew the 
two girls were conspirators, plotting in Basque, or Zemfirian, 
against my hopeless love. I shall go further and say that Lo was 
playing a double game since she was also fooling sentimental 
Mary whom she had told, I suppose, that she wanted to dwell 
with her fun-loving young unde and not with cruel melan- 
choly me. And another nurse whom I never identified, and 
the village idiot who carted cots and coffins into the elevator, 
and the idiotic green love birds in a cage in the waiting room 
— all were in the plot, the sordid plot. I suppose Mary thought 
comedy father Professor Humbertoldi was interfering with 
the romance between Dolores and her father-substitute, roly- 
poly Romeo (for you were rather lardy, you know, Rom, de- 
spite all that "snow” and “joy juice”). 

My throat hurt. I stood, swallowing, at the window and 
stared at the mountains, at the romantic rock high up in the 
smiling plotting sky. 

“My Carmen,” I said (I used to call her that sometimes) 
"we shall leave this raw sore town as soon as you get out of 
bed.” 

“Incidentally, I want all my clothes,” said the gitaniDa, 
humping up her knees and turning to another page. 

. . Because, really,” I continued, “there is no point in 
staying here.” 

There is no point in staying anywhere,” said Lolita. 

222 


V 



I lowered myself into a cretonne chair and, opening the at- 
tractive botanical work, attempted, in the fever-humming 
hush of the room, to identifiy my flowers. This proved im- 
possible. Presently a musical bell softly sounded somewhere 
in the passage. 

I do not think they had more than a dozen patients (three 
or four were lunatics, as Lo had cheerfully informed me 
earlier) in that show place of a hospital, and the staff had 
too much leisure. However — likewise for reasons of show — 
regulations were rigid. It is also true that I kept coming at the 
wrong hours. Not without a secret flow of dreamy malice, 
visionary Mary (next time it will be une belle dame toute en 
bleu floating through Roaring Gulch) plucked me by the 
sleeve to lead me out I looked at her hand; it dropped. As 
I was leaving, leaving voluntarily, Dolores Haze reminded me 
to bring her next morning . . . She did not remember where 
the various things she wanted were . . . "Bring me,” she 
cried (out of sight already, door on the move, closing, closed), 
"the new gray suitcase and Mother’s trunk”; but by next 
morning I was shivering, and boozing, and dying in the motel 
bed she had used for just a few minutes, and the best I could 
do under the circular and dilating circumstances was to send 
the two bags over with the widow’s beau, a robust and kindly 
trucker. I imagined Lo displaying her treasures to Mary . . . 
No doubt, I was a little delirious — and on the following day I 
was still a vibration rather than a solid, for when I looked out 
of the bathroom window at the adjacent lawn, I saw Dolly’s 
beautiful young bicycle propped up there on its support, 
the graceful front wheel looking away from me, as it always 
did, and a sparrow perched on the saddle — but it was the 
landlady’s bike, and smiling a little, and shaking my poor 
head over my fond fancies, I tottered back to my bed, and 
lay as quiet as a saint — 

Saint, forsooth! While brown Dolores, 

On a patch of sunny green 
With Sanchicha reading stories 
In a movie magazine — 

— which was represented by numerous specimens wherever 
Dolores landed, and there was some great national celebration 
in town judging by the firecrackers, veritable bombs, that ex- 
ploded all the time, and at five minutes to two pj-i. I heard 

22 ? 


the sound of whistling lips nearing the half-opened door of 
my cabin, and then a thump upon it. 

It was big Frank. He remained framed in the opened door, 
one hand on its jamb, leaning forward a little. 

Howdy. Nurse Lore was on the telephone. She wanted to 
know was I better and would I come today? 

At twenty paces Frank used to look a mountain of health; 
at five, as now, he was a ruddy mosaic of scars — had been 
blown through a wall overseas; but despite nameless injuries he 
was able to man a tremendous truck, fish, hunt, drink, and 
buoyantly dally with roadside ladies. That day, either because 
it was such a great holiday, or simply because he wanted to 
divert a sick man, he had taken off the glove he usually wore 
on his left hand (the one pressing against the side of the 
door) and revealed to the fascinated sufferer not only an entire 
lack of fourth and fifth fingers, but also a naked girl, with 
cinnabar nipples and indigo delta, charmingly tattooed on 
the back of his crippled hand, its index and middle digit mak- 
ing her legs while his wrist bore her flower-crowned head. 
Oh, delicious . . . reclining against the woodwork, like some 
sly fairy. 

I asked him to tell Mary Lore I would stay in bed all day 
and would get into touch with my daughter sometime tomor- 
row if I felt probably Polynesian. 

He noticed the direction of my gaze and made her right 
hip twitch amorously. 

"Okey-dokey,” big Frank sang out, slapped the jamb, and, 
whistling, carried my message away, and I went on drinking, 
and by morning the fever was gone, and although I was as limp 
as a toad, I put on the purple dressing gown over my maize 
yellow pajamas, and walked over to the office telephone. 
Everything was fine. A bright voice informed me that yes, 
everything was fine, my daughter had checked out the day 
before, around two, her uncle, Mr. Gustave, had called for her 
uath a cocker spaniel pup and a smile for everyone, and a black 
Caddy Lack, and had paid Dolly's bill in cash, and told them 
to tell me I should not worry, and keep warm, they were at 
Grandpa’s ranch as agreed. 

Elphinstone was, and I hope still is, a very cute little town. 
It was spread like a maquette, you know, with its neat green- 
W'ool trees and red-roofed houses over the valley floor and I 
think I have alluded earlier to its model school and temple 
and spacious rectangular blocks, some of which were, curiously 

224 


's 


enough, just unconventional pastures with a mule or a unicorn 
grazing in the young July morning mist Very amusing: at one 
gravel-groaning sharp turn I sideswiped a parked car but said 
to myself telestically — and, telepathically (I hoped), to its 
gesticulating owner — that I would return later, address Bird 
School, Bird, New Bird, the gin kept my heart alive but 
bemazed my brain, and after some lapses and losses common 
to dream sequences, I found myself in the reception room, 
trying to beat up the doctor, and roaring at people under 
chairs, and clamoring for Mary who luckily for her was not 
there; rough hands plucked at my dressing gown, ripping off a 
pocket, and somehow I seem to have been sitting on a bald 
brown-headed patient, whom I had mistaken for Dr. Blue, 
and who eventually stood up, remarking with a preposterous 
accent: "Now, who is nevrotic, I ask?” — and then a gaunt 
unsmiling nurse presented me with seven beautiful, beautiful 
books and the exquisitely folded tartan lap robe, and de- 
manded a receipt; and in the sudden silence I became aware 
of a policeman in the hallway, to whom my fellow motorist 
was pointing me out, and meekly I signed die very symbolic 
receipt, thus surrendering my Lolita to all those apes. But 
what else could I do? One simple and stark thought stood out 
and this was: “Freedom for the moment is everything.” One 
false move — and I might have been made to explain a life of 
crime. So I simulated a coming out of a daze. To my fellow 
motorist I paid what he thought was fair. To Dr. Blue, who 
by then was stroking my hand, I spoke in tears of the liquor 
I bolstered too freely a tricky but not necessarily diseased 
heart with. To the hospital in general I apologized with a 
flourish that almost bowled me over, adding however that I 
was not on particularly good terms with the rest of the Hum- 
bert clan. To myself I whispered that I still had my gun, and 
was still a free man — free to trace the fugitive, free to destroy 
my brother. 


23 


A thousand-mtle stretch of silk-smooth road separated Kas- 
beam, where, to the best of my belief, the red fiend bad been 

225 



scheduled to appear for the first time, and fateful Elphinstone 
which we had reached about a week before Independence Day. 
The journey had taken up most of June for we had seldom 
made more than a hundred and fifty miles per traveling day, 
spending the rest of the time, up to five days in one case, at 
various stopping places, all of them also prearranged, no doubt 
It was that stretch, then, along which the fiend's spoor should 
be sought; and to this I devoted myself, after several unmen- 
tionable days of dashing up and down the relentlessly radiating 
roads in the vicinity of Elphinstone. 

Imagine me, reader, with my shyness, my distaste for any 
ostentation, my inherent sense of the comme il faut, imagine 
me masking the frenzy of my grief with a trembling ingratiat- 
ing smile while devising some casual pretext to flip through the 
hotel register: "Oh,” I would say, "I am almost positive that 
I stayed here once — let me look up the entries for mid-June 
— no, I see I'm wrong after all — what a very quaint name for 
a home town, Kawtagain. Thanks very much.” Or: "I had 
a customer staying here — I mislaid his address — may I . . .?” 
And every once in a while, especially if the operator of the 
place happened to be a certain type of gloomy male, personal 
inspection of the books was denied me. 

I have a memo here: between July 5 and November 18, 
when I returned to Beardsley for a few days, I registered, if 
not actually stayed, at 342 hotels, motels and tourist homes. 
This figure includes a few registrations between Chestnut and 
Beardsley, one of which yielded a shadow of the fiend (“N. 
Petit, Larousse, HI.”); I had to space and time my inquiries 
carefully so as not to attract undue attention; and there must 
have been at least fifty places where I merely inquired at the 
desk — but that was a futile quest, and I preferred building 
up a foundation of verisimilitude and good will by first pay- 
ing for an unneeded room. My survey showed that of the 
300 or so books inspected, at least 20 provided me with a 
clue: the loitering fiend had stopped even more often than we, 
or else — he was quite capable of that — he had thrown in 
additional registrations in order to keep me well furnished 
with derisive hints. Only in one case had he actually stayed 
at the same motor court as we, a few paces from Lolita’s pil- 
low. In some instances he had taken up quarters in the same 
or in a neighboring block; not infrequently he had lain in 
wait at an intermediate spot between two bespoken points. 
How vividly I recalled Lolita, just before our departure from 

226 


Beardsley, prone on the- parlor rag, studying tour hoots and 
maps, and marking laps and stops with her lipstick! . 

I discovered at once that he had foreseen my investigation 
and had planted insulting pseudonyms for my special benefit. 
At the very first motel office I visited, Ponderosa Lodge, his 
entry, among a dozen obviously human ones, read: Dr. Gra- 
tiano Forbeson, Mirandola, NY. Its Italian Comedy conno- 
tations could not fail to strike me, of course. The landlady 
deigned to inform me that the gentleman had been laid up for 
five days with a bad cold, that he had left his car for repairs 
in some garage or other and that he had checked out on the 
4th of July. Yes, a girl called Ann Lore had worked formerly 
at the Lodge, but was now married to a grocer in Cedar City. 
One moonlit night I waylaid white-shoed Mary on a solitary 
street; an automaton, she was about to shriek, but I managed 
to humanize her by the simple act of falling on my knees 
and with pious yelps imploring her to help. She did not know 
a thing, she swore. Who was this Gratiano Forbeson? She 
seemed to waver. I whipped out a hundred-dollar bill. She 
lifted it to the light of the moon. “He is your brother," she 
whispered at last. I plucked the bill out of her moon-cold 
hand, and spitting out a French curse turned and ran away. 
This taught me to rely on myself alone. No detective could 
discover the clues Trapp had tuned to my mind and manner. 
I could not hope, of course, he would ever leave his correct 
name and address; but I did hope he might slip on the glaze 
of his own subtlety, by daring, say, to introduce a richer and 
more personal shot of color than was strictly necessary', or by 
revealing too much through a qualitative sum of quantitative 
parts which revealed too little. In one thing he succeeded: 
he succeeded in thoroughly enmeshing me and my thrashing 
anguish in his demoniacal game. With infinite skill, he swayed 
and staggered, and regained an impossible balance, always 
leaving me with the sportive hope — if I may use such a term 
in speaking of betrayal, fury, desolation, horror and hate — 
that he might give himself away next time. He never did — 
though coming damn close to it. We all admire the spangled 
acrobat with classical grace meticulously walking his tight rope 
in the talcum light; but how much rarer art there is in the 
sagging rope expert wearing scarecrow clothes and impersonat- 
ing a grotesque drunk! I should know. 

The clues he left did not establish his identity but they re- 
flected his personality, or at least a certain homogenous and 

227 



striking personality; his genre,- his type of humor — at its best 
at least — the tone of his brain, had affinities with my own. He 
mimed and mocked me. His allusions were definitely high- 
brow. He was well-read. He knew French. He was versed in 
logodaedaly and logomancy. He was an amateur of sex lore. 
He had a feminine handwriting. He could change his name 
but he could not disguise, no matter how he slanted them, his 
very peculiar Ps, w’s and l’s. Quelquepart Island was one of 
his favorite residences. He did not use a fountain pen which 
fact, as any psychoanalyst will tell you, meant that Hie patient 
was a repressed undinist. One mercifully hopes there are water 
nymphs in the Styx. 

His main trait was his passion for tantalization. Goodness, 
what a tease the poor fellow was! He challenged my scholar- 
ship. I am sufficiently proud of my knowing something to be 
modest about my not knowing all; and I daresay I missed some 
elements in that cryptogrammic paper chase. What a shiver 
of triumph and loathing shook my frail frame V/hen, among 
the plain innocent names in the hotel recorder, his fiendish 
conundrum would ejaculate in my face! I noticed that when- 
ever he felt his enigmas were becoming too recondite, even for 
such a solver as I, he would lure me back with an easy one. 
“Arsine Lupin” was obvious to a Frenchman who remem- 
bered the detective stories of his youth; and one hardly had to 
be a Coleridgian to appreciate the trite poke of “A. Person, 
Porlock, England.” In horrible taste but basically suggestive 
of a cultured man — not a policeman, not a common goon, not 
a lewd salesman — were such assumed names as "Arthur Rain- 
bow” — plainly the travestied author of Le Bateau Bleu— -let 
me laugh a little too, gentlemen — and "Morris Schmetter- 
ling,” of L’Oiseau Ivre fame (touchS, readerl). The silly but 
funny "D. Orgon, Elmira NY,” was from Moli^re, of course, 
and because I had quite recently tried to interest Lolita in a 
famous 18th-century play, I welcomed as an old friend "Harry 
Bumper, Sheridan, Wyo.” An ordinary encyclopedia informed 
me who the peculiar looking “Phineas Quimby, Lebanon, 
NH” was; and any good Freudian, with a German name and 
some interest in religious prostitution, should recognize at a 
glance the implication of "Dr. Kitzler, Eryx, Miss.” So far so 
good. That sort of fun was shoddy but on the whole imper- 
sonal and thus innocuous. Among entries that arrested my 
attention as undoubtable dues per se but baffled me in respect 
to their finer points I do not care to mention many since I 
feel I am groping in a border-land mist with verbal phantoms 

V 228 



turning, perhaps, into living vacationists. Who mas "Johnny 
Randall, Ramble, Ohio”? Or was he a real person who just 
happened to write a hand similar to “N.S. Aristoff, Catagela, 
NY”? What was the sting in "Catagela”? And what about 
"James Mayor Morrell, Hoaxton, England”? "Aristophanes,” 
“hoax” — fine, but what was I missing? 

There was one strain running through all that pseudonymity 
which caused me especially painful palpitations when I came 
across it Such things as “G. Trapp, Geneva, NY.” was the 
sign of treachery on Lolita’s part “Aubrey Beardsley, Quel- 
quepart Island” suggested more lucidly than the garbled tele- 
phone message had that the starting point of the affair should 
be looked for in the East “Lucas Picador, Merrymay, Pa.,” 
insinuated that my Carmen had betrayed my pathetic endear- 
ments to the impostor. Horribly cruel, forsooth, was ’Will 
Brown, Dolores, Colo.” The gruesome "Harold Haze, Tomb- 
stone, Arizona” (which at another time would have appealed 
to my sense of humor) implied a familiarity with the girl’s 
past that in nightmare fashion suggested for a moment that 
my quarry was an old friend of the family, maybe an old flame 
of Charlotte’s, maybe a redresser of wrongs ("Donald Quix, 
Sierra, Nev.”). But the most penetrating bodkin was the 
anagramtafled entry in the register of Chestnut Lodge ‘Ted 
Hunter, Cane, NH”. 

The garbled license numbers left by all these Persons and 
Orgons and Morells and Trapps only told me that motel keep- 
ers omit to check if guests’ cars are accurately listed. Refer- 
ences — incompletely or incorrectly indicated — to the cars the 
fiend had hired for short laps between Wace and Elphinstone 
were of course useless; the license of the initial Aztec was a 
shimmer of shifting numerals, some transposed, others altered 
or omitted, but somehow forming interrelated combinations 
(such as ‘WS 1564” and "SH 1616,” and Q32888” or "CU 
88322”) which however were so cunningly contrived as to 
never reveal a common denominator. 

It occurred to me that after he had turned that convertible 
over to accomplices at Wace and switched to the stage-motor 
car system, his successors might have been less careful and 
might have inscribed at some hotel office the archtypc of those 
interrelated figures. But if looking for the fiend along a road I 
knew he had taken was such a complicated vague and un- 
profitable business, what could I expect from any attempt to 
trace unknown motorists traveling along unknown routes? 

229 



24 


By the time I reached Beardsley, in the course of the har- 
rowing recapitulation I have now discussed at sufficient length, 
a complete image had formed in my mind; and through the— 
always risky — process of elimination I had reduced this image 
to the only concrete source that morbid cerebration and torpid 
memory could give it- 

Except for the Rev. Rigor Mortis (as the girls called him), 
and an old gentleman who taught non-obligatory German and 
Latin, there were no regular male teachers at Beardsley School. 
But on two occasions an art instructor on the Beardsley Col- 
lege faculty had come over to show the schoolgirls magic lan- 
tern pictures of French castles and nineteenth-century paint- 
ings. I had wanted to attend those projections and talks, but 
Dolly, as was her wont, had asked me not to, period. I also 
remembered that Gaston had referred to that particular lec- 
turer as a brilliant garfon; but that was all; memory refused to 
supply me with the name of the chateau-lover. 

On the day fixed for the execution, I walked through the 
sleet across the campus to the information desk in Maker Hah, 
Beardsley College. There I learned that the fellow’ s name was 
Riggs (rather like that of the minister), that he was a bachelor, 
and that in ten minutes he would issue from the “Museum" 
where he was having a class. In the passage leading to the audi- 
torium I sat on a marble bench of sorts donated by Cecilia 
Dalrymple Ramble. As I waited there, in prostatic discomfort, 
drunk, sleep-starved, with m’y gun in my fist in my raincoat 
pocket, it suddenly occurred to me that I was demented and 
was about to do something stupid. There was not one chance 
in a million that Albert Riggs, Ass. Prof., was hiding my Lolita 
at his Beardsley home, 24 Pritchard Road. He could not be the 
villain. It was absolutely preposterous. I was losing my time 
and my wits. He and she were in California and not here 
at all. 

Presently, I noticed a vague commotion behind some white 
statues; a door — not the one I had been staring at — opened 
briskly, and amid a bevy of women students a baldish head 
and two bright brown eyes bobbed, advanced. 

He was a total stranger to me but insis ted wc had met at a 

230 


lawn party at Beardsley School. How was my delightful tennis- 
playing daughter? He had another class. He would be seeing 
me. 

Another attempt at identification was less speedily resolved: 
through an advertisement in one of Lo’s magazines I dared to 
get in touch with a private detective, an ex-pugilist, and merely 
to give him some idea of the method adopted by the fiend, I 
acquainted him with the kind of names and addresses I had 
collected. He demanded a goodish deposit and for two years — 
two years, reader! — that imbecile busied himself with checking 
those nonsense data. I had long severed all monetary relations 
with him when he turned up one day with the triumphant in- 
formation that an eighty-year old Indian by the name of Bill 
Brown lived near Dolores, Colo. 


25 


This book is about Lolita; and now that I have reached the 
part which (had I not been forestalled by another internal 
combustion martyr) might be called "Dolores Disp arue,” 
there would be little sense in analyzing the three empty yean 
that followed. While a few pertinent points have to be 
marked, the general impression I desire to convey is of a side 
door crashing open in life’s full flight, and a rush of roaring 
black time drowning with its whipping wind the cry of lone 
disaster. 

Singularly enough, I seldom if ever dreamed of Lolita as I 
remembered her — as I saw her constantly and obsessively in 
my conscious mind during my daymares and insomnias. More 
precisely: she did haunt my sleep but she appeared there in 
strange and ludicrous disguises as Valeria or Charlotte, or a 
cross between them. That complex ghost would come to me, 
shedding shift after shift, in an atmosphere of great melan- 
choly and disgust, and would recline in dull imitation on 
some narrow board or hard settee, with flesh ajar like the rub- 
ber valve of a soccer ball’s bladder. I would find myself, den- 
tures fractured or hopelessly mislaid, in horrible chambrcs 
gamies where I would be entertained at tedious vivisecting 
parties that generally ended with Charlotte or Valeria weep- 

231 



mg in my bleeding arms and being tenderly kissed by my 
brotherly lips in a dream disorder of auctioneered Viennese 
bric4-brac, pity, impotence and the brown wigs of tragic old 
women who had just been gassed. 

One day I removed from the car and destroyed an accumula- 
tion of teen-magazines. You know the sort. Stone age at head; 
up to date, or at least Mycenaean, as to hygiene. A handsome, 
very ripe actress with huge lashes and a pulpy red underlip, 
endorsing a shampoo. Ads and fads. Young scholars dote on 
plenty of pleats — que c’dtait loin, tout cela [ It is your hostess’ 
duty to provide robes. Unattached details take all the sparkle 
out of your conversation. AH of us have known "pickers" — one 
who picks her cuticle at the office party. Unless he is very 
elderly or very important, a man should remove his gloves 
before shaking hands with a woman. Invite Romance by wear- 
ing the Exciting New Tummy Flattener. Trims turns, nips 
hips. Tristram in Movielove. Yessir! The Joe-Roe marital 
enigma is making yaps flap. Glamourize yourself quickly and 
inexpensively. Comics. Bad girl dark hair fat father cigar; good 
girl red hair handsome daddums clipped mustache. Or that 
repulsive strip with the big gagoon and his wife, a kiddoid 
gnomide. Et mo i qui t'offra is mon gdnie ... I recalled the 
rather charming nonsense verse I used to write her when she 
was a child: “nonsense,” she used to say mockingly, “is cor- 
rect” 


The Squirl and his Squirrel, the Rabs and their Rabbits 
Have certain obscure and peculiar habits. 

Male humming birds make the most exquisite rockets. 
The snake when he walks holds his hands in his pock- 
ets .. . 

Other things of hers were harder to relinquish. Up to the 
end of 1949, I cherished and adored, and stained with my 
kisses and merman tears, a pair of old sneakers, a boy’s shirt 
she had worn, some ancient blue jeans I found in the trunk 
compartment a crumpled school cap, suchlike wanton treas- 
ures. Then, when I understood my mind was cracking, I 
collected these sundry belongings, added to them what had 
been stored in Beardsley — a box of books, her bicycle, old 
coats, galoshes — and on her fifteenth birthday mailed every- 
thing as an anonymous gift to a home for orphaned girls on 
a windy lake, on the Canadian border. 

232 



It is just possible that had I gone to a strong hypnotist he 
might have extracted from me and arrayed in a logical pattern 
certain chance memories that I have threaded through my 
booh with considerably more ostentation than they present 
themselves with to my mind even now when I know what to 
seek in the past. At the time I felt I was merely losing contact 
with reality; and after spending the rest of the winter and 
most of the following spring in a Quebec sanatorium where 
I had stayed before, I resolved first to settle some affairs of 
mine in New York and then to proceed to California for a 
thorough search there. 

Here is something I composed in my retreat: 

Wanted, wanted: Dolores Haze. 

Hair: brown. Lips: scarlet. 

Age: five thousand three hundred days. 

Profession: none, or "starlet.'' 

Where are you hiding, Dolores Haze? 

Why are you hiding, darling? 

(I talk in a daze, I walk in a maze, 

I cannot get out, said the starling). 

Where are you riding, Dolores Haze? 

What make is the magic carpet? 

Is a Cream Cougar the present craze? 

And where are you parked, my car pet? 

Who is your hero, Dolores Haze? 

Still one of those blue-caped star-men? 

Oh the balmy days and the palmy bar’s. 

And the cars, and the bars, my Cannenl 

Oh Dolores, that juke-box burtsl 
Are you still dancin’, darlin’? 

(Both in wom lew's, both in tom T-shirts, 

And I, in my comer, snarlin'). 

Happy, happy is gnarled McFate 
Touring the States with a child wife. 

Plowing his Molly in every State 
Among the protected wild life. 

My Dolly, my folly! Her eyes were vair. 

And never dosed when I kissed her. 

233 



Know an old perfume called Soleil Vert? 

Are you from Paris, mister? 

I/autre soir un air hold cTopdra m’alita; 

Son i£l6 — bien fol est qui s’y fi el 
II nefge, le d6cot s'dcioule, Lolita! 

Lolita, qu’ai-fe fait de ta vie? 

Dying, dying, Lolita Haze, 

Of hate and remorse. I'm dying. 

And again my hairy fist I raise, 

And again I hear you crying. 

Officer, officer, there they go — 

In the rain, where that lighted store isl 
And her sochs are white, and I love her so. 

And her name is Haze, Dolores. 

Officer, officer, there they are — 

Dolores Haze and her loverl 

Whip out your gun and follow that car. 

Now tumble out, and take cover. 

Wanted, wanted: Dolores Haze. 

Her dream-gray gaze never flinches. 

Ninety pounds is all she weighs 
With a height of sixty inches. 

My car is limping, Dolores Haze, 

And the last long lap is -the hardest. 

And I shall be dumped where the weed decays. 

And the rest is rust and stardust. 

By psychoanalyzing this poem, I notice it is really a mani- 
ac’s masterpiece. The stark, stiff, lurid rhymes correspond very 
exactly to certain perspectiveless and terrible landscapes and 
figures, and magnified parts of landscapes and figures, as drawn 
by psychopaths in tests devised by their astute trainers, I wrote 
many more poems. I immersed myself in the poetry of others. 
But not for a second did I forget the load of revenge. 

I would be a knave to say, and the reader a fool to believe, 
shock of losing Lolita cured me of pederosis. My 
accursed nature could not change, no matter how my love for 

234 



her did On playgrounds and beaches, my sullen and stealthy 
eye, against my wiD, still sought out the flash of a nymphet's 
limbs, the sly tokens of Lolita’s handmaids and rosegirls. But 
one essential vision in me had withered: never did I dwell now 
on possibilities of bliss with a little maiden, specific or syn- 
thetic, in some out-of-the-way place; never did my fancy sink 
its fangs into Lolita’s sisters, far far away, in the coves of 
evoked islands. That was all over, for the time being at least. 
On the other hand, alas, two years of monstrous indulgence 
had left me with certain habits of Inst: I feared lest the void 
I lived in might drive me to plunge into the freedom of sud- 
den insanity when confronted with a chance temptation in 
some lane between school and supper. Solitude was corrupting 
me. I needed company and care. My heart was a hysterical 
unreliable organ. This is how Rita enters the picture. 


26 


She was twice Lolita’s age and three quarters of mine: a very 
slight, dark-haired, pale-skinned adult, weighing a hundred and 
five pounds, with charmingly asymmetrical eyes, an angular, 
rapidly sketched profile, and a most appealing cnsellurc to her 
supple back — I think she had some Spanish or Babylonian 
blood. I picked her up one depraved May evening somewhere 
between Montreal and New York, or more narrowly, between 
Toylestown and Blake, at a darkishly burning bar under the 
sign of the Tigermoth, where she was amiably drunk: she in- 
sisted we had gone to school together, and she placed her 
trembling little hand on my ape paw. My senses were very 
slightly stirred but I decided to give her a try; I did — and 
adopted her as a constant companion. She was so kind, was 
Rita, such a good sport, that I daresay she would have given 
herself to any pathetic creature or fallacy, an old broken tree 
or a bereaved porcupine, out of sheer chumminess and com- 
passion. 

When I first met her she had but recently divorced her 
third husband — and a little more recently had been abandoned 
by her seventh cavalier servant — the others, the mutables, were 
too numerous and mobile to tabulate. Her brother was — and 

255 



no doubt still is — a prominent, pasty-faced, suspenders-and- 
painted-tie-wearing politician, mayor and booster of bis baH- 
playing, Bible-reading, grain-handbng home town. For the last 
eight years he had been paying his great little sister several 
hundred dollars per month under the stringent condition that 
she would never never enter great little Grainball City. She 
told me, with wails of wonder, that for some God-damn reason 
every new boy friend of hers would first of all take her Grain- 
bah-ward: it was a fatal attraction; and before she knew what 
was what, she would find herself sucked into the lunar orbit 
of the town, and would be following the flood-lit drive that 
encircled it — "going round and round,” as she phrased it, 
“like a God-damn mulberry moth." 

She had a natty little coup6; and in it we traveled to Cali- 
fornia so as to give my venerable vehicle a rest. Her natural 
speed was ninety. Dear Rital We cruised together for two dim 
years, from summer 1950 to summer 1952, and she was the 
sweetest, simplest, gentlest, dumbest Rita imaginable. In com- 
parison to her, Valechka was a Schlegel, and Charlotte a Hegel. 
There is no earthly reason why I should dally with her in 
the margin of this sinister memoir, but let me say (hi, Rita — 
wherever you are, drunk or hangoverish, Rita, hi!) that she 
was the most soothing, the most comprehending companion 
that I ever had, and certainly saved me from the madhouse. I 
told her I was trying to trace a girl and plug that girl's bully. 
Rita solemnly approved of the plan — and in the course of 
some investigation she undertook on her own (without really 
knowing a thing), around San Humbertino, got entangled 
with a pretty awful crook herself; I had the devil of a time 
retrieving her — used and bruised but still cocky. Then one 
day she proposed playing Russian roulette with my sacred 
automatic; I said you couldn’t, it was not a revolver, x and we 
struggled for it, until at last it went off, touching off a very 
thin and very comical spurt of hot water from the hole it made 
in the wall of the cabin room; I remember her shrieks of 
laughter. 

The oddly prepubescent curve of her back, her ricey skin, 
her slow languorous colombine kisses kept me from mischief. 
It is not the artistic aptitudes that are secondary sexual char- 
acters as some shams and shamans have said; it is the other 
way around: sex is but the anci Ha of art One rather mysterious 
spree that had interesting repercussions I must notice. I had 
abandoned the search: the fiend was either in Tartary or bum- 

236 


ing avray in my cerebellum (the flames fanned by my fancy 
and grief) but certainly not having Dolores Haze play cham- 
pion tennis on the Pacific Coast. One afternoon, on our way 
bade East, in a hideous hotel, the land where the}’ hold con- 
ventions and where labeled, fat, pink men stagger around, all 
first names and business and booze — dear Rita and I awoke 
to find a third in our room, a blond, almost albino, young 
fellow with white eyelashes and large transparent ears, whom 
neither Rita nor I recalled having ever seen in our sad lives. 
Sweating in thick dirty underwear, and with old army boots 
on, he lay snoring on the double bed beyond my chaste Rita. 
One of his front teeth was gone, amber pustules grew’ on his 
forehead. Ritochka enveloped her sinuous nudity in my rain- 
coat — the first thing at hand; I slipped on a pair of candy- 
striped drawers; and we took stock of the situation. Five 
glasses had been used, which, in the way of clues, was an em- 
barrassment of riches. The door was not properly closed. A 
sweater and a pair of shapeless tan pants by on the floor. We 
shook their owner into miserable consciousness. He was com- 
pletely amnesic. In an accent that Rita recognized as pure 
Brooldynese, he peevishly insinuated that somehow we had 
purloined his (worthless) identity. We rushed him into his 
clothes and left him at the nearest hospital, realizing on the 
way that somehow or other after forgotten gyrations, we were 
in Grainball. Half a year later Rita wrote the doctor for news. 
Jack Humhertson as he had been tastelessly dubbed was stall 
isolated from his personal past Oh Mnemosyne, sweetest and 
most mischievous of muses! 

I would not have mentioned this incident had it not started 
a chain of ideas that resnlted in my publishing in the Cantrip 
Review an essay on “Munir and Memory,” in which I sug- 
gested among other things that seemed original and important 
to that splendid review’s benevolent readers, a theory of per- 
ceptual time based on the circulation of the blood and con- 
ceptually depending (to fill up this nutshell) on the mind's 
being conscious not only of matter but also of its own self, 
thus creating a continuous spanning of two points (the stor- 
able future and the stored past) . In result of this venture — 
and in culmination of the impression made by my previous 
travaux — I was called from New York, where Rita and I were 
living in a little flat with a view of gleaming children taking 
shower baths far below in a fountainous arbor of Central 
Park, to Cantrip College, four hundred miles away, for one 

237 



year. I lodged there, in special apartments for poets and 
philosophers, from September 1951 to June 1952, -while Rita 
whom I preferred not to display vegetated — somewhat in- 
decorously, I am afraid — in a roadside inn where I visited her 
twice a week. Then she vanished — more humanly than her pred- 
ecessor had done: a month later I found her in the local jail. 
She was tr£s digne, had had her appendix removed, and man- 
aged to convince me that the beautiful bluish furs she had 
been accused of stealing from a Mrs. Roland MacCrum had 
really been a spontaneous, if somewhat alcoholic, gift from 
Roland himself. I succeeded in getting her out without ap- 
pealing to her touchy brother, and soon afterwards we drove 
back to Central Park West, by way of Briceland, where we 
had stopped for a few hours the year before. 

A curious urge to relive my stay there with Lolita had got 
hold of me. I was entering a phase of existence where I had 
given up all hope of tracing her kidnaper and her. I now at- 
tempted to fall back on old settings in order to save what still 
could be saved in the way of souvenir, souvenir que me veux- 
tn? Autumn was ringing in the air. To a post card requesting 
twin beds Professor Hamburg got a prompt expression of 
regret in reply. They were full up. They had one bathless 
basement room with four beds which they thought I would 
not want Their note paper was headed: 


The Enchanted Huntees 

NEAR CHURCHES NO DOGS 

AD legal beverages 

I wondered if the last statement was true. AH? Did they have 
for instance sidewalk grenadine? I also wondered if a hunter, 
enchanted or otherwise, would not need a pointer more than a 
pew, and with a spasm of pain I recalled a scene worthy of a 
great artist: petite nymphe accroupie; but that silky cocker 
spaniel had perhaps been a baptized one. No — I felt I could 
not endure the throes of revisiting that lobby. There -was a 
much better possibility of retrievable time elsewhere in soft, 
rich-colored, autumnal Briceland. Leaving Rita in a bar, I 
made for the town library. A twittering spinster was only too 
glad to help me disinter mid-August 1947 from the bound 
Briceland Gazette , and presently, in a secluded nook under a 
naked light, I was turning the enormous and fragile pages of 

238 



a coffin-black volume almost as big as Lolita. 

Reader! B ruder/ What a foolish Hamburg that Hamburg 
■was! Since his supersensitive system was loath to face the 
actual scene, he thought he could at least enjoy a secret part 
of it — which reminds one of the tenth or twentieth soldier 
in the raping queue who throws the girl’s black shawl over 
her white face so as not to see those impossible eyes while 
taking his military pleasure in the sad, sacked village. What I 
lusted to get was the printed picture that had chanced to 
absorb my trespassing image while the Gazette’s photographer 
was concentrating on Dr. Braddock and his group. Passionately 
I hoped to find preserved the portrait of the artist as a younger 
brute. An innocent camera catching me on my dark way to 
Lolita’s bed — what a magnet for Mnemosyne! I cannot well 
explain the true nature of that urge of mine. It was allied, I 
suppose, to that swooning curiosity which impels one to 
examine with a magnifying glass bleak little figures — still life 
practically, and everybody about to throw up — at an early 
morning execution, and the patient’s expression impossible to 
make out in the print Anyway, I was literally gasping for 
breath, and one comer of the book of doom kept stabbing 
me in the stomach while I scanned and skimmed . . . Brute 
Force and Possessed were coming on Sunday, the 24th to both 
theaters. Mr. Purdom, independent tobacco auctioneer, said 
that ever since 1925 he had been an Omen Faustum smoker. 
Husky Hank and his petite bride were to be the guests of 
Mr. and Mrs. Reginald G. Gore, 58 Inchkeith Ave. The size 
of certain parasites is one sixth of the host Dunkerque was 
fortified in the tenth century. Misses’ socks, 39 c. Saddle Ox- 
fords 3.98. Wine, wine, wine, quipped the author of Dark 
Age who refused to be photographed, may suit a Persian bub- 
ble bird, hut I say give me rain, rain, rain on the shingle 
roof for roses and inspiration every time. Dimples are caused 
by the adherence of the sldn to the deeper tissues. Greeks 
repulse a heavy guerilla assault — and, ah, at last a little figure 
in white, and Dr. Braddock in black, but whatever spectral 
shoulder was brushing against his ample form — nothing of 
myself could I make out 

I went to find Rita who introduced me with her vin trisic 
miile to a pocket-sized wizened truculently tight old man say- 
ing this was — what was that name again, son? — a former 
schoolmate of hen. He tried to retain her, and in the slight 
scuffle that followed I hurt my thumb against his hard head. 

239 



In the silent painted park where I walked her and aired her 
a little, she sobbed and said I would soon, soon leave her as 
everybody had, and I sang her a wistful French ballad, and 
strung together some fugitive rhymes to amuse her: 

The place was called Enchanted Hunters. Query: 
What Indian dyes, Diana, did thy dell 
endorse to make of Picture Lake a very 
blood bath of trees before the blue hotel? 

She said: “Why blue when it is white, why blue for 
heaven's sake?” and started to cry again, and I marched her 
to the car, and we drove on to New York, and soon she was 
reasonably happy again high up in the haze on the little terrace 
of our flat. I notice I have somehow mixed up two events, my 
visit with Rita to Briceland on our way to Cantrip, and our 
passing through Briceland again on our way back to New 
York, but such suffusions of swimming colors are not to be 
disdained by the artist in recollection. 



My letterbox in the entrance hall belonged to the type that 
allows one to glimpse something of its contents through a 
glassed slit. Several times already, a trick of harlequin light that 
fell through the glass upon an alien handwriting had twisted it 
into a semblance of Lolita’s script causing me almost to col- 
lapse as I leant against an adjacent urn, almost my own. 
Whenever that happened — whenever her lovely, loopy, child- 
ish scrawl was horribly transformed into the dull hand of one 
of my few correspondents — I used to recollect, with anguished 
amusement, the times in my trustful, pre-dolorian past when I 
would be misled by a jewel-bright window opposite wherein my 
lurking eye, the ever alert periscope of my shameful vice, would 
make out from afar a half-naked nymphet stilled in the act of 
combing her Alice-in-Wonderland hair. There was in the flery 
phantasm a perfection which made my wild delight also per- 
fect, just because the vision was out of reach, with no possi- 
bility of at tainm ent to spoil it by the awareness of an ap- 

240 

"x 



pended taboo; indeed, it may well be that the very attraction 
immaturity has for me lies not so much in the limpidity of 
pure young forbidden fairy child beauty as in the security of 
a situation where infinite perfections fill the gap between the 
little given and the great promised — the great rosegray never- 
tobe-had. Mes fenStres! Hanging above blotched sunset and 
welling night, grinding my teeth, I would crowd all the de- 
mons of my desire against the railing of a throbbing balcony: 
it would be ready to take off in the apricot and black humid 
evening; did take off — whereupon the lighted image would 
move and Eve would revert to a rib, and there would be noth- 
ing in the window but an obese partly clad man reading the 
paper. 

Since I sometimes won the race between my fancy and 
nature’s reality, the deception was bearable. Unbearable pain 
began when chance entered the fray and deprived me of the 
smile meant for me. “Savez-vous qu’ji dix ans ma petite dtait 
folle de vous?” said a woman I talked to at a tea in Paris, and 
the petite had just married, miles away, and I could not even 
remember if I had ever noticed her in that garden, next to 
those tennis courts, a dozen years before. And now likewise, 
the radiant foreglimpse, the promise of reality, a promise not 
only to he simulated seductively but also to be nobly held — 
all this, chance denied me — chance and a change to smaller 
characters on the pale beloved writer’s part. My fancy was 
both Proustianized and Procrusteanized; for that particular 
morning, early in September 1952, as I had come down to 
grope for my mail, the dapper and bilious janitor with whom 
I was on execrable terms started to complain that a man 
who had seen Rita home recently had been "sick like a dog” 
on the front steps. In the process of listening to him and 
tipping him, and then listening to a revised and politer version 
of the incident, I had the impression that one of the two 
letters w’hich that blessed mail brought was from Rita’s 
mother, a crazy little woman, whom we had once visited on 
Cape Cod and who kept writing me to my various addresses, 
saying how wonderfully well matched her daughter and I 
were, and how wonderful it would be if wc married; the other 
letter which I opened and scanned rapidly in the el era tor was 
from John Farlow. 

I have often noticed that we are inclined to endow our 
friends wath the stability of type that literary characters ac- 
quire in the reader’s mind. No matter how many times we 

241 



reopen “King Lear,” never shall we find the good Idng banging 
his tankard in high revelry, all woes forgotten, at a jolly reunion 
with all three daughters and their lapdogs. Never will Emma 
rally, revived by the sympathetic salts in Flaubert’s father’s 
timely tear. Whatever evolution this or that popular character 
has gone through between the book covers, his fate is fixed 
in our minds, and, similarly, we expect our friends to follow 
this or that logical and conventional pattern we have fixed for 
them. Thus X will never compose the immortal music that 
would clash with the second-rate symphonies he has accus- 
tomed us to. Y will never commit murder. Under no circum- 
stances can Z ever betray us. We have it all arranged in our 
minds, and the less often we see. a particular person the more 
satisfying it is to check how obediently he conforms to our 
notion of him every time we hear of him. Any deviation in 
the fates we have ordained would strike us as not only anom- 
alous but unethical. We would prefer not to have known at 
all our neighbor, the retired hot-dog stand operator, if it turns 
out he has just produced the greatest book of poetry his age 
has seen. 

I am saying all this in order to explain how bewildered I was 
by Farlow’s hysterical letter. 1 knew his wife had died but I 
certainly expected him to remain, throughout a devout widow- 
hood, the dull, sedate and reliable person he had always been. 
Now he wrote that after a brief visit to the U.S. he had re- 
turned to South America and had decided that whatever affairs 
he had controlled at Ramsdale he would hand over to Jack 
Windmuller of that town, a lawyer whom we both knew. He 
seemed particularly relieved to get rid of the Haze “complica- 
tions.” He had married a Spanish girl. He had stopped smok- 
ing and had gained thirty pounds. She was very young and a 
ski champion. They were going to India for their honeymon- 
soon. Since he was “building a family” as he put it, he would 
have no time henceforth for my affairs which he termed “very 
strange and very aggravating.” Busybodies — a whole commit- 
tee of them, it appeared — had informed him that the where- 
abouts of little Dolly Haze were unknown, and that I was 
living with a notorious divorcee in California. His father-in-law 
was a count, and exceedingly wealthy. The people who had 
been renting the Haze house for some years now wished to buy 
it. He suggested that I better produce Dolly quick. He had 
broken his leg. He enclosed a snapshot of himself and a 
brunette in white wool beaming at each other among the 
snows of Chile. 


242 


hr 

,ztz 

ire: 


ek 

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PSt' 

^refc? 

;TX?^' 

ibr- 

•‘fct’tf 

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7fc^ 

ifeif;- 

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A! 

IS*--* 

JS^' 


I remember letting myself into my flat and starting to say: 
Well, at least we sbafi now track them down — when the other 
letter began .talking to me in a small matter-of-fact voice: 

Dear Dad: 

How’s everything? Fm married. I’m going to have a baby. 
I guess he’s going to be a big one. I guess he'll come right for 
Christmas. This is a hard letter to write. Fm going nuts be- 
cause we don’t have enough to pay our debts and get out of 
here. Dick is promised a big job in Alaska in his very special- 
ized comer of the mechanical field, that’s all I know about 
it but it’s really grand. Pardon me for withholding our home 
address but you may still be mad at me, and Dick must not 
know. This town is something. You can't see the morons 
for the smog. Please do send us a check, Dad. We could 
manage with three or four hundred or even less, anything is 
welcome, you might sell my old things, because once we get 
there the dough will just start rolling in. Write, please. I 
have gone through much sadness and hardship. 

Yours expecting, 

Dolly (Mrs. Richard F. Schiller) 


28 


I was again on the road, again at the wheel of the old blue 
sedan, again alone. Rita had still been dead to the world when 
I read that letter and fought the mountains of agony it raised 
within me. I had glanced at her as she smiled in her sleep and 
had kissed her on her moist brow, and had left her forever, with 
a note of tender adieu which I taped to her navel — otherwise 
she might not have found it. 

"Alone” did I say? Pas tout £ fait. I had my little black 
chum with me, and as soon as I reached a secluded spot, I 
rehearsed Mr. Richard F. Schiller's violent death. I had found 
a very old and very dirty gray sweater of mine in the back 
of the car, and this I hung up on a branch, in a speechless 
glade, which I had reached by a wood road from the now re- 
mote highway. The carrying out of the sentence was a little 
marred by what seemed to me a certain stiffness in the play 
of the trigger, and I wondered if I should get some oil for the 

243 



mysterious thing but decided I had no time to spare. Back into 
the car went the old dead sweater, now with additional per- 
forations, and having reloaded warm Chum, I continued my 
journey. 

The letter was dated September 18, 1952 (this was Septem- 
ber 22), and the address she gave was "General Delivery, 
Coalmont” (not “Va.,” not ‘Ta.,” not "Tenn.” — and not 
Coalmont, anyway — I have camouflaged everything, my love). 
Inquiries showed this to be a small industrial community some 
eight hundred miles from New York City. At first I planned 
to drive all day and night, but then thought better of it and 
rested for a couple of hours around dawn in a motor court 
room, a few miles before reaching the town. I had made up 
my mind that the fiend, this Schiller, had been a car salesman 
who had perhaps got to know my Lolita by giving her a ride 
in Beardsley — the day her bike blew a tire on the way to Miss 
Emperor — and that he had got into some trouble since then. 
The corpse of the executed sweater, no matter how I changed 
its contours as it lay on the back seat of the car, had kept 
revealing various outlines pertaining to Trapp-Schiller — the 
grossness and obscene bonhommie of his body, and to counter- 
act this taste of coarse corruption I resolved to make myself 
especially handsome and smart as I pressed home the nipple 
of my alarm clock before it exploded at the set hour of six 
a.m. Then, with the stem and romantic care of a gentleman 
about to fight a duel, I checked the arrangement of my papers, 
bathed and perfumed my delicate body, shaved my face and 
chest, selected a silk shirt and clean drawers, pulled on trans- 
parent taupe socks, and congratulated myself for having with 
me in my trunk some very exquisite clothes — a waistcoat with 
nacreous buttons, for instance, a pale cashmere tie and so on. 

I was not able, alas, to hold my breakfast, but dismissed that 
physicality as a trivial contretemps, wiped' my mouth with a 
gossamer handkerchief produced from my sleeve, and, with a 
blue block of ice for heart, a pill on my tongue and solid death 
in my hip pocket, I stepped neatly into a telephone booth in 
Coalmont (Ah-ah-ah, said its little door) and rang up the only 
Schiller — Paul, Furniture — to be found in the battered book. 
Hoarse Paul told me he did know a Richard, the son of a 
cousin of his, and his address was, let me see, 10 Killer Street 
(I am not going very far for my pseudonyms) . Ah-ah-ah, said 
the little door. 

At 10 Killer Street, a tenement house, I interviewed a num- 
N 244 



her of dejected old people and two long-haired strawberry-blond 
incredibly grubby nymphets (rather abstractly, just for the 
heck of it, the ancient beast in me was casting about for some 
lightly dad child I might hold against me for a minute, after 
the killing was over and nothing mattered any more, and 
everything was allowed) . Yes, Dick Sldller had lived there, but 
had moved when he married. Nobody knew his address. "They 
might know at the store," said a bass voice from an open 
manhole near which I happened to be standing with the two 
thin-armed, barefoot little girls and their dim grandmothers. 
I entered the wrong store and a wary old Negro shook his 
head even before I could ask anything. I crossed over to a 
bleak grocery and there, summoned by a customer at my re- 
quest, a woman’s voice from some wooden abyss in the floor, 
tiie manhole’s counterpart, cried out: Hunter Road, last house. 

Hunter Road was miles away, in an even more dismal dis- 
trict, all dump and ditch, and wormy vegetable garden, and 
shade, and gray drizzle, and red mud, and several smoking 
stacks in the distance. 1 stopped at the last "house” — a clap- 
board shack, with two or three similar ones farther away from 
the road and a waste of withered weeds all around. Sounds of 
hammering came from behind the house, and for several min- 
utes I sat quite still in my old car, old and frail, at the end 
of my journey, at my gray goal, finis, my friends, finis, my 
fiends. The time was around two. My pulse was -40 one minute 
and 100 the next. The drizzle crepitated against the hood 
of the car. My gun had migrated to my right trouser pocket. A 
nondescript cur came out from behind the house, stopped in 
surprise, and started good-naturedly woof-woofing at me, his 
eyes slit, his shaggy belly all muddy, and then walked about a 
little and woofed once more. 


29 


I got out of the CA?. and slammed its door. How mattei-of- 
fact, how square that slam sounded in the void of the sunless 
dayl Woof, commented the dog perfunctorily. I pressed the 
bell button, it vibrated through my whole system. Person ne. Je 
resonne. Repexsonne. From what depth this rc-nonsense? 

245 



Woof, said the dog. A rush and a shuffle, and woosh-woof 
went the door. 

Couple of inches taller. Pink-rimmed glasses. New, heaped- 
up hairdo, new ears. How simplel The moment, the death I 
had kept conjuring up for three years was as simple as a bit of 
dry wood. She was frankly and hugely pregnant. Her head 
looked smaller (only two seconds had passed really, hut let 
me give them as much wooden duration as life can stand), and 
her pale-fredded cheeks were hollowed, and her bare shins and 
arms had lost all their tan, so that the little hairs showed. 
She wore a brown, sleeveless cotton dress and sloppy felt 
slippers. 

“We — e — elll” she exhaled after a pause with all the 
emphasis of wonder and welcome. 

“Husband at home?” I croaked, fist in pocket. 

I could not kill her, of course, as some have thought. You 
see I loved her. It was love at first sight, at last sight, at ever 
and ever sight. 

“Come in,” she said with a vehement cheerful note. Against 
the splintery deadwood of the door, Dolly Schiller flattened 
herself as best she could (even rising on tiptoe a little) to let 
me pass, and was crucified for a moment, looking down, smil- 
ing down at the threshold, hollow-cheeked with round pom - 
mettes, her watered-milk-white arms outspread on the wood. I 
passed without touching her bulging babe. Dolly-smell, with 
a faint fried addition. My teeth chattered like an idiot's. “No, 
you stay out” (to the dog). She closed the door and followed 
me and her belly into the dollhouse parlor. 

“Dick’s down there,” she said pointing with an invisible 
tennis racket, inviting my gaze to travel from the drab parlor- 
bedroom where we stood, right across the kitchen, and through 
the back-doorway where, in a rather primitive vista, a dark- 
haired young stranger in overalls, instantaneously reprieved, 
was perched with his back to me on a ladder fixing something 
near or upon the shack of his neighbor, a plumper fellow with 
only one arm, who stood looking up. 

This pattern she explained from afar, apologetically (“Men 
will be men”); should she call him in? 

No. 

Standing in the middle of the slanting room and emitting 
questioning “hm’s,” she made familiar Javanese gestures with 
her wrists and hands, offering me, in a brief display of humor- 
ous courtesy, to choose between a rocker and the divan (their 

246 



Bed after ten p . m.) . I say “familiar” because one day she had 
welcomed me with the same wrist dance to her party in 
Beardsley. We both sat down on the divan. Cnrions: although 
actually her looks had faded, I definitely realized, so hope- 
lessly late in the day, how much she looked — had always 
looked — like Botticelli’s russet Venus — the same soft nose, the 
same blurred beauty. In my pocket my fingers gently let go 
and repacked a little at the tip, within the handkerchief it 
was nested in, my unused weapon. 

“That’s not the fellow I want,” I said. ! 

The diffuse look of welcome left her eyes. Her forehead J 
puckered as in the old bitter days: 

“Not who?" 

"Where is he? Quick!” 

"Look,” she said, inclining her head to one side and shaking 
it in that position. “Look, you are not going to bring that up.” 

“I certainly am," I said, and for a moment — strangely 
enough the only merciful, endurable" one in the whole in- 
terview— we were bristling at each other as if she were still 
mine. 

A wise girl, she controlled herself. 

Dick did not know a thing of the whole mess. He thought I 
was her father. He thought she had run away from an upper- 
class home just to wash dishes in a diner. He believed anything. 
Why should I want to make things harder than they were by 
Taking up all that muck? , 

But, I said, she must be sensible, she must be a sensible girl \ 
(with her bare drum under that thin brown stuff), she must i 
understand that if she expected the help I had come to give, I 
must have at least a clear comprehension of the situation. 

“Come, his namel” ! 

She thought I had guessed long ago. It was (with a mis- ; 
chievous and melancholy smile) such a sensational name. I 
would never believe it She could hardly believe it herself. j 

His name, my fall nymph. ; 

It was so unimportant, she said. She suggested I slap it. * 
Would I hke a cigarette? j 

No. His name. j 

She shook her head with great resolution. She guessed it ' 
was too late to raise hell and I would never believe the un- : 
believably unbelievable — ; 

I said I had better go, regards, nice to have seen her. 

She said really it was useless, she would never tell, but on 

2i7 


the other hand, after all — "Do you really want to know who 
it was? Well, it was — ” 

And softly, confidentially, arching her thin eyebrows and 
puckering her parched lips, she emitted a little mockingly, 
somewhat fastidiously, not untenderly, in a kind of muted 
whistle, the name that the astute reader has guessed long ago. 

Waterproof. Why did a flash from Hourglass Lake cross my 
consciousness? I, too, had known it, without knowing it, all 
along. There was no shock, no surprise. Quietly the fusion took 
place, and everything fell into order, into the pattern of 
branches that I have woven throughout this memoir with the 
express purpose of having the ripe fruit fall at the right mo- 
ment; yes, with the express and perverse purpose of rendering 
— she was talking but I sat melting in my golden peace — of 
rendering that golden and monstrous peace through the satis- 
faction of logical recognition, which my most inimical reader 
should experience now. 

She was, as I say, talking. It now came in a relaxed flow. He 
was the only man she had ever been crazy about. What about 
Dick? Oh, Dick was a lamb, they were quite happy together, 
but she meant something different. And I had never counted, 
of course? 

She considered me as if grasping all at once the incredible— 
and somehow tedious, confusing and unnecessary — fact that 
the distant, elegant, slender, forty-year-old valetudinarian in 
velvet coat sitting beside her had known and adored every 
pore and follicle of her pubescent body. In her washed-out 
gray eyes, strangely spectacled, our poor romance was for a 
moment reflected, pondered upon, and dismissed like a dull 
party, like a rainy picnic to which only the dullest botes had 
come, like a humdrum exercise, like a bit of dry mud caking 
her childhood. 

I just managed to jerk my knee out of the range of a sketchy 
tap — one of her acquired gestures. 

She asked me not to be dense. The past was the past I had 
been a good father, she guessed — granting me that. Proceed, 
Dolly Schiller. 

Well, did I know that he bad known her mother? That he 
was practically an old friend? That he had visited with his 
uncle in Ramsdale? — oh, years ago — and spoken at Mother's 
club, and had tugged and pulled her, Dolly, by her bare arm 
onto his lap in front of everybody, and kissed her face, she 
was ten and furious with him? Did I know he had seen me and 

248 



her at the inn -where he was writing the very play she was to 
rehearse in Beardsley, two years later7 Did I know — It bad 
been horrid of her to sidetrack me into believing that Clare 
was an old female, maybe a relative of his or a sometime life- 
mate — and oh, what a dose shave it had been when the Wace 
Journal carried his picture. 

The Briceland Gazette had not Yes, very amusing. 

Yes, she said, this world was just one gag after another, if 
somebody wrote up her life nobody would ever believe it. 

At this point, there came brisk homey sounds from the 
kitchen into which Dick and Bill had lumbered in quest of ! 
beer. Through the doorway they noticed the visitor, and Dick 
entered the parlor, | 

“Dick, this is my Dad!” cried Dolly in a resounding violent ! 
voice that struck me as totally strange, and new, and cheerful, ] 
and old, and sad, because the young fellow, veteran of a re- j 
mote war, was hard of hearing. 

Arctic blue eyes, black hair, ruddy cheeks, unshaven chin. 

We shook hands. Discreet Bill, who evidently took pride in 
working wonders with one hand, brought in the beer cans 
he had opened. Wanted to withdraw. The exquisite courtesy j 
of simple folks. Was made to stay. A beer ad. In point of fact, J 
I preferred it that way, and so did the Schillers. I switched to j 

the jittery rocker. Avidly munching, Dolly plied me with j 

marshmallows and potato chips. The men looked at her fr tgile, j 
frileux, diminutive, old-world, youngish but sickly, father in j 
velvet coat and beige vest, maybe a viscount. j 

They were under the impression I bad come to stay, and ; 
Dick with a great wrinkling of brows that denoted difficult \ 

thought, suggested Dolly and he might sleep in the kitchen J 

on a spare mattress. I waved a light hand and told Dolly who [ 

transmitted it by means of a special shout to Dick that I hall 
merely dropped in on my way to Readsburg where I was to 
be entertained by some friends and admirers. It was then no- 
ticed that one of the few' thumbs remaining to Bill was bleed- 
ing (not such a wonder-worker after all). How womanish and 
somehow never seen that way before was the shadowy division 
between her pale breasts when she bent down over the man’s 
hand! She took him for repairs to the kitchen. For a few 
minutes, three or four little eternities which positively welled 
with artificial warmth, Dick and I remained alone. He sat on ; 
a hard chair rubbing his fordimbs and frowning. I had an idle 
urge to squeeze out the blackheads on the wings of his per- 

249 


; sad eyes 
Guam’s apple 

^ large and tauy- Why. s Doty had ha* uwe^ a d *tJ 

brawny chaps? ' ttieie , at aiat— how long tod 
course on that con moie . and before ® at all, nothing 
thnes, Mo grudge. Funny-no gni | ^ nose . i ms 

ste ^ 0 SrfSd nanS. He waj nownrbb loath he wodd 

except g 11 ^ finallv tie w'ould .9?° c v, e ’s a swell lad, M • 
sure that {i s head) : a ^eU rnothen 

say (slightly shaki g , g g0in g to ® This gave him 

H^ze. She sure is. ^?^_ and took a sip o* «**• at the 

He opened his mou we nt on sipP®|^ Florentine breasts. 

countenance— and had cupped h phalanges, the 

South. He and broken finer tt 

Lhunbert Humbert. __ r he silent too. ^ ^^Mied-to 

Good Tf he was s 


lair was— and then p crushed tngg . But pres- 

eSoyed the Viennese medicine m^ hypnQtold 

ss& « r i? - ■ ” ,a 


“’"And s“ I ahonted ' youarag^ rf course. «WeH,h<= 

, -V_l re-shouted— 1 *r~ ddin g sagely ^ "Vlv.” 

nursed his glass aui noddmg ^ ^ly ^ 

rnt it on a lagger, I g^ 5 hi bloom. A A flower- 

Lovely mauve almon^ ^ pointihsbc ^ reappea red. 

istic arm han&og ^ Do hy and bandaid ^ pa i e beauty 

££2&%*$£ 

He guessed Mr. naz ^ 



each other. He guessed he would he seeing me before I left 
Why do those people guess so much and shave so little, and 
are so disdainful of hearing aids? j 

"Sit down,” she said, audibly striking her Hanks with her j 
palms. I relapsed into the black rocker. j 

"So you betrayed me? Where did you go? Where is he 
now7” . j 

She took from the mantelpiece a concave glossy snapshot j 
Old woman in white, stout beaming, bowlegged, very short j 
dress; old man in his shirtsleeves, drooping mustache, natch j 
chain. Her in-laws. Living with Dick’s brother’s family in j 
Juneau. . ! 

"Sure you don’t want to smoke?” J 

She was smoking herself. First time I saw her doing it : 
Streng verboten under Humbert the Terrible. Gracefully, in j 
a blue mist Charlotte Haze rose from her grave. I would find 
him through Uncle Ivory if she refused. j 

"Betrayed you? No.” She directed the dart of her cigarette, ] 
index rapidly tapping upon it toward the hearth exactly as her j 
mother used to do, and then, like her mother, oh my God, i 

with her fingernail scratched and removed a fragment of j 

cigarette paper from her underlip. No. She had not betrayed ' 
me. I was among friends. Edusa had warned her that Cue : 

liked little girls, had been almost jailed once, in fact (nice 1 

fact), and he knew she knew. Yes . . . Elbow in palm, puff, ! 

smile, exhaled smoke, darting gesture. Waxing reminiscent. i 
He saw — smiling — through everything and everybody, because : 

he was not like me and her but a genius. A gieat guy. Full of i 
fun. Had rocked with laughter when she confessed about me 
and her, and said he had thought so. It was quite safe, under : 
the circumstances, to tell him ... 

Well, Cue — they' all called him Cue — 

Her camp five years ago. Curious coincidence — . . . took 
her to a dude ranch about a day's drive from Elephant (El- 
phinstone). Named? Oh, some silly name — Duk Duk Ranch 
— you know just plain silly — but it did not matter now, any- 
way, because the place had vanished and disintegrated. Really, 
she meant, I could not imagine how utterly lush that ranch 
was, she meant it h 2 d everything but everything, even an in- 
door waterfall. Did I remember the redhaired guy we (“we” 
was good) had once had some tennis with? Well, the place 
really belonged to Red’s brother, but he had turned it over to 
Cue for the summer. When Cue and she came, the others had 

251 


them actually go through a coronation ceremony and then — 
a terrific ducking, as when you cross the Equator. You know. 

Her eyes rolled in synthetic resignation. 

"Go on, please.” 

Well. The idea was he would take her in September to 
Hollywood and arrange a tryout for her, a bit part in the ten- 
nis-match scene of a movie picture based on a play of his — 
Golden Guts — and perhaps even have her double one of its 
sensational starlets on the Klieg-struck tennis court. Alas, it 
never came to that. 

"Where is the hog now?” 

He was not a hog. He was a great guy in many respects. But 
it was all drink and drugs. And, of course, he was a complete 
freak in sex matters, and his friends were his slaves. I just 
could not imagine (I, Humbert, could not imaginel) what 
they all did at Duk Duk Ranch. She refused to tike part be- 
cause she loved him, and he threw her out. 

'What things?” 

"Oh, weird, filthy, fancy things. 1 mean, he had two girls 
and two boys, and three or four men, and the idea was for all 
of us to tingle in the nude while an old woman took movie 
pictures.” (Sade’s Justine was twelve at the start). 

"What things exactly?” 

"Oh, things . . . Oh, I — really I” — she uttered the "I” as a 
subdued cry while she listened to the source of the ache, and 
for- lack of words spread the five fingers of her angularly up- 
and-down-moving hand. No, she gave it up, she refused to go 
into particulars with that baby inside her. 

That made sense. 

“It is of no importance now,” she said pounding a gray 
cushion with her fist and then lying back, belly up, on the 
divan. “Crazy things, filthy things. I said no. I’m just not 
going to [she used, in all insouciance really, a disgusting slang 
term which, in a literal French translation, would be souffler] 
your beastly boys, because I want only you. Well, he kicked 
me out” 

There was not much else to tell. That winter 1949, Fay and 
she had found jobs. For almost two years she had — oh, just 
drifted, oh, doing some restaurant work in small places, and 
then she had met Dick. No, she did not know where the other 
was. In New York, she guessed. Of course, he was so famous 
she would have found him at once if she had wanted. Fay 
had tried to get back to the Ranch — and it just was not there 

252 



any more — it had burned to the ground, nothing remained, 
just a charred heap of rubbish. It 'was so strange, so strange — 

She dosed her eyes and opened her mouth, leaning back on 
the cushion, one felted foot on the floor. The wooden floor 
slanted, a little steel ball would have rolled into the kitchen. 
I knew all I wanted to know. I had no intention of torturing 
my darling. Somewhere beyond Bill's shack an afterwork radio 
had begun singing of folly and fate, and there she was with 
her ruined looks and her adult, rope-veined narrow hands and 
her gooseflesh white arms, and her shallow ears, and her un- 
kempt armpits, there she was (my Lolita!), hopelessly worn 
at seventeen, with that baby, dreaming already in her of be- 
coming a big shot and retiring around 2020 a.d. — and I looked 
and looked at her, and knew as clearly as I know I am to die, 
that I loved her more than anything I had ever seen or 
imagined on earth, or hoped for anywhere else. She was only 
the faint violet whiff and dead leaf echo of the nymphet I had 
rolled myself upon with such cries in the past; an echo on the 
brink of a russet ravine, with a far wood under a white sky, 
and brown leaves choking the brook, and one last cricket in 
the crisp weeds . . . but thank God it was not that echo 
alone that I worshiped. What I used to pamper among the 
tangled vines of my heart, mon grand p€ch6 radieux, had 
dwindled to its essence: sterile and selfish wee, all that I can- 
celed and cursed. You may jeer at me, and threaten to clear 
the court, but until I am gagged and half-throttled, I will 
shout my poor truth. I insist the world know how much I 
loved my Lolita, this Lolita, pale and polluted, and big with 
another’s child, but still gray-eyed, still sooty-lashed, still 
auburn and almond, stall Carmencita, still mine; Changeons 
de vie, ma Carmen, alJons vivre quelque part oh nous ne serom 
jamais s£par&; Ohio? The wilds of Massachusetts? No mat- 
ter, even if those eyes of hers would fade to myopic fish, and 
her nipples swell and crack, and her lovely young velvety 
delicate delta be tainted and tom — even then I would go mad 
with tenderness at the mere sight of your dear wan face, at the 
mere sound of your raucous young voice, my Lolita. 

"Lolita,” I said, "this may be neither here nor there but I 
hare to say it Life is very short From here to that old car 
you know so well there is a stretch of twenty, twenty-five 
paces. It is a very short walk Make those twenty-five steps. 
Nov,'. Right now. Come just as you axe. And we shall lire 
happily ever after.” 


2 

t 

( 

f 

t 

i 

J. 

£ 

t 

i 

1 

t 

i 

t 

i 

i, 

t 

i 

j 

! 

( 

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i 

t 


253 


Carmen, voulez-vous venir avec moi? 

‘Ton mean,” she said opening her eyes and raising herself 
slightly, the snake that may strike, “you mean you will give us 
[us] that money only if I go with you to a motel. Is that what 
you mean?” 

“No,” I said, “you got it all wrong. I want you to leave 
your incidental Dick, and this awful hole, and come to live 
with me, and die with me, and everything with me” (words 
to that effect) . 

“You're crazy,” she said, her features working. 

“Think it over, Lolita. There are no strings attached. Ex- 
cept, perhaps — well, no matter.” (A reprieve, I wanted to 
say hut did not.) “Anyway, if you refuse you will still get 
your . . . trousseau .” 

“No kidding?” asked Dolly. 

I handed her an envelope with four hundred dollars in cash 
and a check for three thousand six hundred more. 

Gingerly, uncertainly, she received mon petit cadeau; and 
then her forehead became a beautiful pink. “You mean,” she 
said, with agonized emphasis, “you are giving us four thousand 
bucks?" I covered my face with my hand and broke into the 
hottest tears I had ever shed. I felt them winding through my 
fingers and down my chin, and burning me, and my nose got 
clogged, and I could not stop, and then she touched my wrist. 

“I’ll die if you touch me,” I said. “You are sure you are not 
coming with me? Is there no hope of your coming? Tell me 
only this.” 

“No,” she said. “No, honey, no.” 

She had never called me honey before. 

“No,” she said, “it is quite out of the question. I would 
sooner go back to Cue. I mean — ” 

She groped for words. I supplied them mentally (“He broke 
my heart. You merely broke my life”). 

“I think,” she went on — “oops” — the envelope skidded to 
the floor — she picked it up — “I think it's oh utterly grand of 
you to give us all that dough. It settles everything, we can 
start next week. Stop crying, please. You should understand. 
Let me get you some more beer. Oh, don’t cry. I'm so sorry 
I cheated so much, but that’s the way things are.” 

I wiped my face and my fingers. She smiled at the cadeau. 
She exulted. She wanted to call Dick. I said I would have to 
leave in a moment, did not want to see him at all, at all. We 
tried to think of some subject of conversation. For some rea- 
son, I kept seeing — it trembled and sHkxly glowed on my damp 

254 


retina— a radiant child of twelve, sitting on a threshold, 
"pinging” pebbles at an empty can. I almost said — trying to 
find some casual remark — "I wonder sometimes what has be- 
come of the little McCoo girl, did she ever get better?” — but 
stopped in time lest she rejoim “I wonder sometimes what has 
become of the little Haze girl . . Finally, I reverted to money 
matters. That sum, I said, represented more or less the net 
rent from her mother's house; she said: "Had it not been sold 
years ago?” No (I admit I had told her this in order to sever 
all connections with R.); a lawyer would send a full account 
of the financial situation later, it was rosy; some of the small 
securities her mother had owned had gone up and up. Yes, 
I was quite sure I had to go. I had to go, and find him, and 
destroy him. 

Since I would not have survived the touch of her lips, I 
kept retreating in a mincing dance, at every step she and her 
belly made toward me. 

She and the dog saw me off. I was surprised (this a rhetorical 
figure, I was not) that the sight of the old car in which she 
had ridden as a child and a nymphet, left her so very indiffer- 
ent All she remarked was it was getting sort of purplish about 
the gills. I said it was hers, I could go by bus. She said don’t 
be silly, they would fly to Jupiter and buy a car there. I said 
I would buy this one from her for five hundred dollars. 

“At this rate we’ll be millionnaires next," she said to the 
ecstatic dog. 

Carmencita, Iui demandais-je . . . "One last word,” I said 
in my horrible careful English, “are you quite, quite sure that 
— well, not tomorrow, of course, and not after tomorrow, 
but — well — some day, any day, you will not come to live with 
me? I will create a brand new God and thank him with 
piercing cries, if you give me that microscopic hope” (to that 
effect) . 

*|No,” she said smiling, “no.” 

"It would have made all the difference,” said Humbert 
Humbert 

Then I pulled out my automatic — I mean, this is the land 
of a fool thing a reader might suppose I did. It never even 
occurred to me to do it 

“Good by-ayel” she chanted, my American sweet immortal 
dead love; for she is dead and immortal if you are reading this. 
I mean, such is the formal agreement with the so-called 
authorities. 

Then, as I drove away, I heard her shout in a vibrant voice 

255 



to her Dick; and the dog started to lope alongside my car 
like a fat dolphin, but he was too heavy and old, and very soon 
gave up. 

And presently I was driving through the drizzle of the 
dying day, with the windshield wipers in full action but un- 
able to cope with my tears. 



Leaving as i did Coalmont around four in the afternoon 
(by Route X — I do not remember the number) , I might have 
made Ramsdale by dawn had not a short-cut tempted me. 
I had to get onto Highway Y. My map showed quite blandly 
that just beyond Woodbine, which I reached at nightfall, I 
could leave paved X and reach paved Y by means of a trans- 
verse dirt road. It was only some forty miles long according 
to my map. Otherwise I would have to follow X for another 
hundred miles and then use leisurely looping Z to get to Y 
and my destination. However, the short cut in question got 
worse and worse, bumpier and bumpier, muddier and muddier, 
and when I attempted to turn back after some ten miles of 
purblind, tortuous and tortoise-slow progress, my old and weak 
Melmoth got stuck in deep clay. All was dark and muggy, and 
hopeless. My headlights hung over a broad ditch full of water. 
The surrounding country, if any, was a black wilderness. I 
sought to extricate myself but my rear wheels only whined 
in slosh and anguish. Cursing my plight, I took off my fancy 
clothes, changed into slacks, pulled on the bullet-riddled 
sweater, and waded four miles back to a roadside farm. It 
started to rain on the way but I had not the strength to go 
back for a mackintosh. Such incidents have convinced me that 
my heart is basically sound despite recent diagnoses. Around 
midnight, a wrecker dragged my car out. I navigated back to 
Highway X and traveled on. Utter weariness overtook me an 
hour later, in an anonymous little town. I pulled up at the 
curb and in darkness drank deep from a friendly flask. 

The rain had been cancelled miles before. It was a black 
warm night, somewhere in Appalachia. Now and then cars 
passed me, red tail-lights receding, white headlights advance 

256 



ing, "bat the town was dead. Nobody strobed and laughed 
on the sidewalks as relaxing burghers would in sweet, mellow, 
rotting Europe. I was alone to enjoy the innocent night and 
my terrible thoughts. A wire receptacle on the curb was very 
particular about acceptable contents: Sweepings. Paper. No 
Garbage. Sheny-red letters of light marked a Camera Shop. 
A large thermometer with the name of a laxative qnietly 
dwelt on the front of a drugstore. Ruhinov's Jewelry Com- 
pany had a display of artificial diamonds reflected in a red 
mirror. A lighted green clock swam in the linenish depth of 
Jiffy Jeff Laundry. On the other side of the street a garage 
said in its sleep — genuflexion lubricity; and corrected itself to 
Gulflex Lubrication. An airplane, also gemmed by Rubinov, 
passed, droning, in the velvet heavens. How many small 
dead-of-night towns I had seenl This was not yet the last. 

Let me dally a little, he is as good as destroyed. Some way 
further across the street, neon lights flickered twice slower 
than my'heart: the outline of a restaurant sign, a large coffee- 
pot, kept bursting, every full second or so, into emerald life, 
and every time it went out, pink letters saying Fine Foods 
relayed it, but the pot could stfll be made out as a latent 
shadow teasing the eye before its next emerald resurrection. 
We made shadowgraphs. This furtive burg was not far from 
The Enchanted Hunters. I was weeping again, drunk on the 
impossible past 


31 

At tkis soi.it sky stop for refreshments between Coalmont 
and Ramsdale (between innocent Dolly SchilleT and jovial 
Uncle Ivor), I reviewed my case. With the utmost simplicity 
and clarity I now saw myself and my love. Previous attempts 
seemed out of focus in comparison. A couple of years before, 
under the guidance of an intelligent French-speaking con- 
fessor, to whom, in a moment of metaphysical curiosity, I had 
turned over a Protestant’s drab atheism for an old-fashioned 
popish cure, I had hoped to deduce from my sense of sin the 
existence of a Supreme Being. On those frosty mornings in 
rimc-laced Quebec^ the good priest worked on me with the 



finest tenderness and understanding. I am infinitely obliged 
to him and the great Institution he represented. Alas, I was 
unable to transcend the simple human fact that whatever 
spiritual solace I might find, whatever lithophanic eternities 
might be provided for me, nothing could make my Lolita for- 
get the foul lust I had inflicted upon her. Unless it can be 
proven to me — to me as I am now, today, with my heart and 
my beard, and my putrefaction — that in the infinite run it 
does not matter a jot that a North American girl-child named 
Dolores Haze had been deprived of her childhood by a 
maniac, unless this can be proven (and if it can, then life 
is a joke) , I see nothing for the treatment of my misery but 
the melancholy and very local palliative of articulate art. 
To quote an old poet: 

The moral sense in mortals is the duty 

We have to pay on mortal sense of beauty. 


There was the day, during our first trip — our first circle of 
paradise — when in order to enjoy my phantasms in peace I 
firmly decided to ignore what I could not help perceiving, the 
fact that I was to her not a boy friend, not a glamour man, not 
a pal, not even a person at all, but just two eyes and a foot of 
engorged brawn — to mention only mentionable matters. 
There was the day when having withdrawn the functional 
promise I had made her on the eve (whatever she had set her 
funny little heart on — a roller rink with some special plastic 
floor or a movie matinee to which she wanted to go alone), 
I happened to glimpse from the bathroom, through a chance 
combination of minor aslant and door ajar, a look on her face 
. . . that look I cannot exactly describe ... an expression 
of helplessness so perfect that it seemed to grade into one of 
rather comfortable inanity just because this was the very 
limit of injustice and frustration — and every limit presup- 
poses something beyond it — hence the neutral illumination. 
And when you bear in mind that these were the raised eye- 
brows and parted lips of a child, you may better appreciate 

258 


what depths of calculated carnality, what reflected despair, 
restrained me from falling at her dear feet and dissolving in 
human tears, and sacrificing my jealousy to whatever pleasure 
Lolita might hope to derive from mixing with dirty and 
dangerous children in an outside world that was real to her. 

And I have stSI other smothered memories, now unfolding 
themselves into limbless monsters of pain. Once, in a sunset- 
ending street of Beardsley, she turned to little Eva Rosen (I 
was taking both nymphets to a concert and walking behind 
them so close as almost to touch them with my person), she 
turned to Eva, and so very serenely and seriously, in answer 
to something the other had said about its being better to die 
than hear Milton Pinski, some local schoolboy she knew, talk 
about music, my Lolita remarked: 

“You know, what's so dreadful about dying is that you are 
completely on your own"; and it struck me, as my automaton 
knees went up and down, that I simply did not know a thing 
about my darling’s mind and that quite possibly, behind the. 
awful juvenile cliches, there was in her a garden and a twilight, 
and a palace gate — dim and adorable regions which happened 
to be lucidly and absolutely forbidden to me, in my polluted 
rags and miserable convulsions; for I often noticed that living 
as we did, she and I, in a world of total evil, we would be- 
come strangely embarrassed whenever I tried to discuss some- 
thing she and an older friend, she and a parent, she and a real 
healthy sweetheart, I and Annabel, Lolita and a sublime, puri- 
fied, analyzed, deified Harold Haze, might have discussed — 
an abstract idea, a painting, stippled Hopkins or shorn Baude- 
laire, God or Shakespeare, anything of a genuine kind. Good 
willl She would mail her vulnerability in trite brashness and 
boredom, whereas I, using for my desperately detached com- 
ments an artificial tone of voice that set my own last teeth on 
edge, provoked my audience to such outbursts of rudeness 
as made any further conversation impossible, oh my poor, 
bruised cbfld. 

I loved you. I was a pentapod monster, but I loved you. I 
was despicable and brutal, and turpid, and everything, mais je 
t aimais, je t’aimais! And there were times when I knew how 
you felt, and it was hell to know it, my little one. Lolita girl, 
brave Dolly Schiller. 

I recall certain moments, let us call them icebergs in para- 
dise, when after haring had my fill of her — after fabulous, 
msane exertions that left me limp and azure-barred — I would 

259 


gather her in my arms with, at last, a mute moan of human 
tenderness (her shin glistening in the neon light coming from 
the paved court through the slits in the blind, her soot-black 
lashes matted, her grave gray eyes more vacant than ever — for 
all the world a little patient still in the confusion of a drug 
after a major operation) — and the tenderness would deepen 
to shame and despair, and I would lull and rock my lone light 
Lolita in my marble arms, and moan in her warm hair, and 
caress her at random and mutely ask her blessing, and at the 
peak of this human agonized selfless tenderness (with my 
soul actually hanging around her naked body and ready to 
repent), all at once, ironically, horribly, lust would swell 
again — and “oh, no,” Lolita would say with a sigh to heaven, 
and the next moment the tenderness and the azure — all would 
be shattered. 

Mid-twentieth century ideas concerning child-parent rela- 
tionship have been considerably tainted by the scholastic 
rigmarole and standardized symbols of the psychoanalytic 
racket, but I hope I am addressing myself to unbiased readers. 
Once when Avis’s father had honked outside to signal papa 
had come to take his pet home, I felt obliged to invite him 
into the parlor, and he sat down for a minute, and while we 
conversed. Avis, a heavy unattractive, affectionate child, drew 
up to him and eventually perched plumply on his knee. Now, 
I do not remember if I have mentioned that Lolita always had 
an absolutely enchanting smile for strangers, a tender furry 
slitting of the eyes, a dreamy sweet radiance of all her features 
which did not mean a thing of course but was so beautiful, 
so endearing that one found it hard to reduce such sweetness 
to but a magic gene automatically lighting up her face in 
atavistic token of some ancient rite' of welcome — hospitable 
prostitution, the coarse reader may say. Well, there she stood 
while Mr. Byrd twirled his hat and talked, and — yes, look how 
stupid of me, I have left out the main characteristic of the 
famous Lolita smile, namely: while the tender, nectared, 
dimpled brightness played, it was never directed at the stranger 
in the room but hung in its own remote flowered void, so to 
speak, or wandered with myopic softness over chance objects 
— and this is what was happening now: while fat Avis sidled 
up to her papa, Lolita gently beamed at a fruit knife that 
she fingered on the edge of the table, whereon she leaned, 
many miles away from me. Suddenly, as Avis clung to her 
father’s neck and ear while, with a casual arm, the man en- 

260 

\ 



vdoped his lumpy and large offspring, I saw Lolita's smile lose 
all its light and become a frozen little shadow of itself, and the 
fruit knife slipped off the table and struck her with its silver 
handle a freak blow on the ankle which made her gasp, and 
crouch head forward, and then, jumping on one leg, her face 
awful with the preparatory grimace which children hold till the 
tears gush, she was gone — to be followed at once and con- 
soled in the kitchen by Avis who had such a wonderful fat 
pink dad and a small chubby brother, and a brand-new baby 
sister, and a home, and two grinning dogs, and Lolita had 
nothing. And I have a neat pendant to that little scene — also 
in a Beardsley setting. Lolita, who had been reading near the 
fire, stretched herself, and then inquired, her elbow up, with 
a grunt: ‘'Where is she buried anyway?” "Who?” "Oh, you 
know, my murdered mummy.” "And you know where her 
grave is," I said controlling myself, whereupon I named the 
cemetery — just outside Ramsdde, between the railway tracks 
and Lakeview Hill. “Moreover,” I added, "the tragedy of such 
an accident is somewhat cheapened by the epithet you saw fit 
to apply to it If you really wish to triumph in your mind 
over the idea of death — •” "Ray,” said Lo for hurra}', and 
languidly left the room, and for a long while I stared with 
smarting eyes into the fire. Then I picked up her book. It 
was some trash for young people. There was a gloomy girl 
Marion, and there was her stepmother who turned out to be, 
against all expectations, a young, gay, understanding redhead 
who explained to Marion that Marion's dead mother had 
TeaHy been a heroic woman since she had deliberately dis- 
simulated her great love for Marion because she was dying, 
and did not want her child to miss her. I did not rush up to 
her room with cries. I always preferred the mental hygiene 
of noninterference. Now, squirming and pleading with my 
own memory, I recall that on this and similar occasions, it 
was always my habit and method to ignore Lolita’s states of 
mind while comforting my own base self. ’When my mother, 
in a livid wet dress, under the tumbling mist (so I vividly 
imagined her), had ran panting ecstatically up that ridge 
above Moulinet to be felled there by a thunderbolt, I was but 
an infant, and in retrospect no yearnings of the accepted land 
could I ever graft upon any moment of my youth, no matter 
how savagely psychotherapists heckled me in my later periods 
of depression. But I admit that a man of my power of imagina- 
tion cannot plead personal irmorance of universal emotions. 

261 



I may also have relied too much on the abnormally chill rela- 
tions between Charlotte and her daughter. But the awful point 
of the whole argument is this. It had become gradually clear to 
my conventional Lolita during our singular and bestial cohabi- 
tation that even the most miserable of family lives was better 
than the parody of incest, which, in the long run, was the 
best I could offer the waif. 


33 


Ramsdaxe revisited. I approached it from the side of the 
lake. The sunny noon was all eyes. As I rode by in my mud- 
flecked car, I could distinguish scintillas of diamond water 
between the far pines. I turned into the cemetery and walked 
among the long and short stone monuments. Bonzhur, Char- 
lotte. On some of the graves there were pale, transparent little 
national flags slumped in the windless air under the ever- 
greens. Gee, Ed, that was bad luck — referring to G. Edward 
Grammar, a thirty-five-year-old New York office manager who 
had just been arrayed on a charge of murdering his thirty- 
three-year-old wife, Dorothy. Bidding for the perfect crime, 
Ed had bludgeoned his wife and put her into a car. The case 
came to light when two county policemen on patrol saw Mrs. 
Grammar’ s new big blue Chrysler, an anniversary present from 
her husband, speeding crazily down a hill, just inside their 
jurisdiction (God bless our good copsl). The car sideswiped 
a pole, ran up an embankment covered with beard grass, wild 
strawberry and cinquefoil, and overturned. The wheels were 
still gently spinning in the mellow sunlight when the officers 
removed Mrs. G.’s body. It appeared to be a routine highway 
accident at first. Alas, the woman’s battered body did not 
match up with only minor damage suffered by the car. I did 
better. 

I rolled on. It was funny to see again the slender white 
church and the enormous elms. Forgetting that in an Amer- 
ican suburban street a lone pedestrian is more conspicuous 
than a lone motorist, I left the car in the avenue to walk 
unobtrusively past 342 Lawn Street. Before the great blood- 
shed, I was entitled to a little relief, to a cathartic spasm of 

262 



mental regurgitation. Closed were the white shutters of the 
Junk mansion, and somebody had attached a found black 
velvet hair ribbon to the white for sale sign which was lean- 
ing toward the sidewalk. No dog barked. No gardener tele- 
phoned. No Miss Opposite sat on the vined porch — where 
to the lone pedestrian’s annoyance two pony-tailed young 
women in identical polka-dotted pinafores stopped doing 
whatever they were doing to stare at him: she was long dead, 
no doubt, these might be her twin nieces from Philadelphia. 

Should I enter my old house? As in a Turgenev story, a tor- 
rent of Italian music came from an open window — that of the 
living room: what romantic soul was playing the piano where 
no piano had plunged and plashed on that bewitched Sunday 
with the sun on her beloved legs? All at once I noticed that 
from the lavra I had mown a golden-skinned, brovra-haired 
nymphet of nine or ten, in white shorts, was looking at me 
with wild fascination in her large blue-black eyes. I said some- 
thing pleasant to her, meaning no harm, an old-world com- 
pliment, what nice eyes you have, but sbe retreated in haste 
and the music stopped abruptly, and a violent-looking dark 
man, glistening with sweat, came out and glared at me. I was 
on the point of identifying myself when, with a pang of dream- 
embarrassment, I became aware of my mud-caked dungarees, 
my filthy and tom sweater, my bristly chin, my bum’s blood- 
shot eyes. Without saying a word, I turned and plodded back 
the way I had come. An aster-like anemic flower grew out 
of a remembered chink in the' sidewalk. Quietly resurrected. 
Miss Opposite was being wheeled out by her nieces, onto heT 
porch, as if it were a stage and I the star performer. P raring 
sbe would not call to me, I hurried to my car. What a steep 
little street. What a profound avenue. A red ticket showed 
between wiper and windshield; I carefully tore it into two, 
four, eight pieces. 

Feeling I was losing my time, I drove energetically to the 
downtown hotel where I had arrived with a new’ bag more than 
five years before. I took a room, made two appointments by 
telephone, shaved, bathed, put on black clothes and went 
down for a’drink in the bar. Nothing had changed. The bar- 
room was suffused with the same dim, impossible gamet-red 
light that in Europe years ago went with low haunts, but here 
meant a bit of atmosphere in a family hotel. 1 sat at the same 
little table where at the very start of my stay, immediately 
after becoming Charlotte’s lodger, I had thought fit to cclc- 

263 



brate the occasion, by suavely sharing with her half a bottle 
of champagne, which had fatally conquered her poor brim- 
ming heart. As then, a moon-faced waiter was arranging with 
stellar care fifty sherries on a round tray for a wedding party. 
Murphy-Fantasia, this time. It was eight minutes to three. 
As I walked through the lobby, I had to skirt a group of ladies 
who with mille graces were taking leave of each other after a 
luncheon party. With a harsh cry of recognition, one pounced 
upon me. She was a stout, short woman in pearl-gray, with a 
long, gray, slim plume to her small hat. It was Mrs. Chatfield. 
She attacked me with a fake smile, all aglow with evil curiosity. 
(Had I done to Dolly, perhaps, what Frank Lasalle, a fifty-year- 
old mechanic, had done to eleven-year-old Sally Homer in 
1948?) Very soon I had that avid glee well under control. She 
thought I was in California. How was — ? With exquisite 
pleasure I informed her that my stepdaughter had just mar- 
ried a brilliant young mining engineer with a hush-hush job in 
the Northwest. She said she disapproved of such early mar- 
riages, she would never let her Phyllis, who was now eighteen — 

“Oh .yes of course,” I said quietly. “I remember Phyllis. 
Phyllis and Camp Q. Yes, of course. By the way, did she ever 
tell you how Charlie Holmes debauched there his mother’s 
little charges?” 

Mrs. Cbatfield's already broken smile now disintegrated 
completely. 

“For shame,” she cried, “for shame, Mr. Humbert! The 
poor boy has just been killed in Korea.” 

I said didn’t she think "vient de,” with the infinitive, ex- 
pressed recent events so much more neatly than the English 
“just,” with the past? But I had to be trotting off, I said. 

There were only two blocks to Windmuller’s office. He 
greeted me with a very slow, very enveloping, strong, searching 
grip. He thought I was in California. Had' I not lived at one 
time at Beardsley? His daughter had just entered Beardsley 
College. And how was — ? I gave all necessary information 
about Mrs. Schiller. We had a pleasant business conference. I 
walked out into the hot September sunshine a contented 
pauper. 

Now that everything had been put out of the way, I could 
dedicate myself freely to the main object of my visit to Rams- 
dale. In the methodical manner on which I have always prided 
myself, I had been keeping Clare Quilty’s face masked in my 
dark dungeon, where he was waiting for me to come with 

264 



barber and priest: “RiveHlez-vons, Laqueue, U est temps de 
mouriiF I bare no time right now to discoss the mnemonics 
of phyriognomization — I am on my way to his unde and 
walking fast — but let me jot down this: I had preserved in 
the alcohol of a douded memory the toad of a face. In the 
course of a few glimpses, I had noticed its slight resemblance 
to a cheery and rather repulsive wine dealer, a relative of mine 
in Switzerland, With his dumbbells and stinking tricot, and 
fat hairy arms, and bald patch, and pig-faced servant-concu- 
bine, he was on the whole a harmless old rascal. Too harmless, 
in fact, to he confused ’with my prey. In the state ofamind I 
now found myself, I had lost contact with Trapp’s image. It 
had become completely engulfed by the face of Clare Quilty — ■ 
as represented, with artistic precision, by an easeled photo- 
graph of him that stood on his unde’s desk. 

In Beardsley, at the hands of charming Dr. Molnar, I had 
undergone a rather serious dental operation, retaining only a 
few upper and lower front teeth. The substitutes were depend- 
ent on a system of plates with an inconspicuous wire affair run- 
ning along my upper gums. The whole arrangement was a 
masterpiece of comfort, and my canines were in perfect health. 
However, to garnish my secret purpose with a plausible pretext, 
I told Dr. Quilty that, in hope of alleviating facial neuralgia, 
I had derided to hare all my teeth removed. What would a 
complete set of dentures cost? How long would the process 
fake, assuming we fixed our first appointment for some time 
in November? Where was his famous nephew now? Would it 
be possible to hare them all out in one dramatic session? 

_ A white-smocked, gray-haired man, with a crew cut and the 
big fiat cheeks of a politician. Dr. Quilty perched on the comer 
of his desk, one foot dreamily and seductively rocking as he 
launched on a glorious long-range plan. He would first proride 
me with provisional plates until the gums settled. Then he 
would make me a permanent set. He would like to have a look 
at that mouth of mine. He wore perforated pied shoes. He had 
not visited with the rascal since 1946, but supposed he could 
he found at his ancestral home, Grimm Road, not far from 
Partington. It was a noble dream. His foot rocked, his gaxe 
was inspired. It would cost me around six hundred. He sug- 
gested he take measurements right away, and make the first set 
before starting operations. My mouth was to him a splendid 
cave full of priceless treasures, but I denied him entrance. 

"No,” I said. "On second thoughts, I shall hare it all done 

265 



by Dr. Molnar. His price is Higher, but he is of course a much 
better dentist than you.” 

I do not know if any of my readers will ever have a chance 
to say that. It is a delicious dream feeling. Clare's uncle re- 
mained sitting on the desk, still looking dreamy, but his foot 
had stopped push-rocking the cradle of rosy anticipation. On 
the other hand, his nurse, a skeleton-thin, faded girl, with the 
tragic eyes of unsuccessful blondes, rushed after me so as to 
be able to slam the door in my wake. 

Push the magazine into the butt. Press home until you hear 
or feel the magazine catch engage. Delightfully snug. Capacity: 
eight cartridges. Full Blued. Aching to be discharged. 


A cas station attendant in Parkington explained to me very 
clearly how to get to Grimm Road. Wishing to be sure Quflty 
would be at home, I attempted to ring him up but learned that 
his private telephone had recently been disconnected. Did that 
mean he was gone? I started to drive to Grimm Road, twelve 
miles north of the town. By that time night had eliminated 
most of the landscape and as I followed the narrow winding 
highway, a series of short posts, ghostly white, with reflectors, 
borrowed my own lights to indicate this or that curve. I could 
make out a dark valley on one side of the road and wooded 
slopes on the other, and in front of me, like derelict snow- 
flakes, moths drifted out of the blackness into my probing 
aura. At the twelfth mile, as foretold, a curiously hooded 
bridge sheathed me for a moment and, beyond it, a white- 
washed rock loomed on the right, and a few car lengths further, 
on the same side, I turned off the highway up gravelly Grimm 
Road. For a couple of minutes all was dank, dark, dense forest 
Then, Pavor Manor, a wooden house with a turret, arose in a 
circular clearing. Its windows glowed yellow and red; its drive 
v/as cluttered with half a dozen cars. I stopped in the shelter 
of the trees and abolished my lights to ponder the next move 
quietly. He would be surrounded by his henchmen and whores. 
I could not help seeing the inside of that festive and ram- 
shackle castle in terms of “Troubled Teens,” a story in one of 

266 


Lei magazines, vague “orgies/’ a sinister adult with penele ci- 
gar, drugs, bodyguards. At least, be was there. I would return 
in the toipid morning. ~ 

Gently I rolled back to town, in that old faithful car of 
mine which was serenely, almost cheerfully working for me. 
My Lolital There was still a three-year-old bobby pin of 
hers in the depths of the glove compartment. There was still 
that stream of pale moths siphoned out of the night by my 
headlights. Dark bams still propped themselves up here and 
there by the roadside. People were still going to the movies. 
While searching for night lodgings, I passed a drive-in. In 
a selenian glow, truly mystical in its contrast with the moonless 
and massive night, on a gigantic screen slanting away among 
dark drowsy fields, a thin phantom raised a gun, both he and 
his arm reduced to tremulous dishwater by the oblique angle 
of that receding world, — and the next moment a row of trees 
shut off the gesticulation. 


35 


I left Insomnia Lodge next morning around eight and spent 
some time in Parldngton. Visions _of bungling the execution 
kept obsessing me. Thinking that perhaps the cartridges in the 
automatic had gone stale during a week of inactivity, I re- 
moved them and inserted a fresh batch. Such a thorough oil 
bath did I give Chum that now I could not get rid of the 
stuff. I bandaged him up with a rag, like a maimed limb, and 
osed another rag to wrap up a handful of spare bullets. 

A thunderstorm accompanied me most of the way back to 
Grimm Road, but when I reached Pavor Manor, the sun was 
visible again, burning like a man, and the birds screamed in the 
drenched and steaming trees. The elaborate and decrepit bouse 
seemed to stand in a kind of daze, reflecting as it were my own 
state, for I could not help realizing, as my feet touched the 
springy and insecure ground, that I had overdone the alcoholic 
stimulation business. 

A guardedly ironic silence answered my bell. The garage, 
however, was loaded with his car, a black convertible for the 
nonce. I tried the knocker. Re-nobody. With a petulant stud, 

267 



I pushed the front door — and, how nice, it swung open as in 
a medieval fairy tale. Having softly closed it behind me, I made 
my way across a spacious and very ugly hall; peered into an ad- 
jacent drawing room; noticed a number of used glasses growing 
out of the carpet; decided that, master was still asleep in the 
master bedroom. 

So I trudged upstairs. My right hand clutched muffled 
Chum in my pocket, my left patted the sticky banisters. Of 
the three bedrooms I inspected, one had obviously been slept 
in that night. There was a library full of flowers. There was a 
rather bare room with ample and deep mirrors and a polar bear 
skin on the slippery floor. There were still other rooms. A 
happy thought struck me. If and when master returned from 
his constitutional in the woods, or emerged from some secret 
lair, it might be wise for an unsteady gunman with a long 
job before him to prevent his playmate from locking himself 
up in a room. Consequently, for at least five minutes I went 
about — lucidly insane, crazily calm, an enchanted and very 
tight hunter — turning whatever keys in whatever locks there 
were and pocketing them with my free left hand. The house 
being an old one, had more planned privacy than have modem 
glamour-boxes, where the bathroom, the only lockable locus, 
has to be used for the furtive needs of planned parenthood. 

Speaking of bathrooms — I was about to visit a third one 
when master came out of it, leaving a brief waterfall behind 
him. The comer of a passage did not quite conceal me. Gray- 
faced, baggy-eyed, fluffily disheveled in a scanty balding way, 
but still perfectly recognizable, he swept by me in a purple 
bathrobe, very like one I had. He either did not notice me, or 
else dismissed me as some familiar and innocuous hallucina- 
tion — and, showing me his hairy calves, he proceeded, sleep- 
walker-wise, downstairs. I pocketed my last key and followed 
him into the entrance hah. He had half opened his mouth 
and the front door, to peer out through a sunny chink as one 
who thinks he has heard a half-hearted visitor ring and recede. 
Then, still ignoring the raincoated phantasm that had stopped 
in midstairs, master walked into a cozy boudoir across the hall 
from the drawing room, through which — taking it easy, know- 
ing he was safe — I now went away from him, and in a bar- 
adomed kitchen gingerly unwrapped dirty Chum, taking care 
not to leave any oil stains on the chrome — I think I got the 
wrong product, it was black and awfully messy. In my usual 
meticulous way, I transferred naked Chum to a dean recess 

268 



about me and made for the little boudoir. My step, as I say, 
•was springy — too springy perhaps for success. But my heart 
pounded with tiger joy, and I crunched a.cochtail glass under-, 
foot 

Master met me in the Oriental parlor. 

“Now who are you?” he ashed in a high hoarse voice, his 
hands thrust into his dressing-gown pockets, his eyes. fixing' a 
point to the northeast of my head. “Are you by any chance 
Brewster?” 

By now it was evident to everybody that he wns in a fog and 
completely at my so-called mercy. I could enjoy myself. 

“That’s right,” I answered suavely. "Je suis Monsieur Brus- 
f£re. Let us chat for a moment before we start.” 

He looked pleased. His smudgy mustache twitched. I re- 
moved my raincoat. I was wearing a black suit, a black shirt, 
no tie. We sat down in two easy chairs. 

"You know,” he said, scratching loudly his fleshy and gritty 
gray cheek and showing his small pearly teeth in a crooked 
grin, “you don’t look like Jack Brew'ster. I mean, the resem- 
blance is not particularly striking. Somebody told me he had 
a brother with the same telephone company.” 

To hare him trapped, after those years of repentance and 
rage ... To look at the black hairs on the back of his pudgy 
hands ... To wander with a hundred eyes over his purple 
silks and hirsute chest foreglimpsing the punctures, and mess, 
and music of pain ... To know that this semi-animated, 
subhuman trickster who had sodomized my darling — oh, my 
darling, this was intolerable bliss! 

“No, I am afraid I am neither of the Brewsters.” 

He cocked his head, looking more pleased than ever. 

“Guess again. Punch.” 

"Ah,” said Punch, “so j - ou have not come to bother me 
about those long-distance calls?” 

"You do make them once in a while, don’t you?” 

"Excuse me?” 

I said I had said I thought he had said he had never — 

'Tcople,” he said, “people in general. I’m not accusing you, 
Brewster, but you know it’s absurd the way people invade this 
damned house without even knocking. The} - use the vaferre, 
they use the kitchen, they use the telephone. Phil calls Phila- 
delphia. Pat calls Patagonia. I refuse to pay. You have a funny 
accent, Captain.” 

“Quflty,” I said, "do you recall a little girl called Delores 

269 


Haze, Dolly Haze? Dolly called Dolores, Colo?” 

“Sure, she may have made those calls, sure. Any place. 
Paradise, Wash., Hell Canyon. Who cares?” 

“I do, Quilty. You see, I am her father.” 

“Nonsense,” he said. “You are not. You are some foreign 
literary agent. A Frenchman once translated my Proud Flesh 
as La FiertS de la Chair. Absurd.” 

“She was my child, Quilty.” 

In the state he was in he could not really be taken aback 
by anything, but his blustering manner was not quite convinc- 
ing. A sort of wary inkling kindled his eyes into a semblance 
of life. They were immediately dulled again. 

“I'm very fond of children myself,” he said, “and fathers are 
among my best friends.” 

He turned his head away, looking for something. He beat 
his pockets. He attempted to rise from his seat. 

“Down!” I said — apparently much louder than I intended. 

“You need not roar at me,” he complained in his strange 
feminine manner. “I just wanted to smoke. I'm dying for a 
smoke.” 

“You're dying anyway.” 

“Oh, chucks,” he said. “You begin to, bore me. What do 
you want? Are you French, mister? Woolly-woo-boo-are? Let's 
go to the barroomette and have a stiff — ” 

He saw the little dark weapon lying in my palm as if I were 
offering it to him. 

“Say!” he drawled (now imitating the underworld numb- 
skull of movies), “that's a swell little gun you’ve got there. 
What d'you want for her?” 

I slapped down his outstretched hand and he managed to 
knock over a box on a low table near him. It ejected a handful 
of cigarettes. 

"Here they are,” he said cheerfully. “You recall Kipling: 
une femme est une femme, mais un Capoial est one cigarette ? 
Now we need matches.” 

"Quilty,” I said. “I want you to concentrate. You are going 
to die in a moment. The hereafter for all we know may be an 
eternal state of excruciating insanity. You smoked your last 
cigarette yesterday. Concentrate. Try to understand what is 
happening to you.” 

He kept taking the Drome cigarette apart and munching 
bits of it. 

“I am willing to try,” he said. “You are either Australian, or 

270 


a German refugee. Must you talk to me? This is a Gentile’s 
house, you know. Maybe, you’d better run along. And do stop 
demonstrating that gun. I’ve an old Stem-Luger in the music 
room." 

I pointed Chum at his slippered foot and crushed the trig- 
ger. It clicked. He looked at his foot, at the pistol, again at his 
foot I made another awful effort, and, with a ridiculously 
feeble and juvenile sound, it vent off. The bullet entered the 
thick pink rug, and I had the paralyzing impression that it 
had merely trickled in and might come out again. 

“See what I mean?” said Quilty. "You should be a little 
more careful. Give me that, thing for Christ’s sake.” 

He reached for it. I pushed him back into the chair. The 
rich joy was waning. It was high time I destroyed him, but he 
must understand why he was being destroyed. His condition 
infected me, the weapon felt limp and clumsy in my hand. 

"Concentrate," I said, "on the thought of Dolly Haze whom 
you kidnaped — ” 

‘1 did notl” he cried. 'You’re all wet. I saved her from a 
beastly pervert Show me your badge instead of shooting at my 
foot, you ape, you. Where is that badge? I'm not responsible 
for the rapes of others. Absurd! That joy ride, I grant you, was 
a silly stunt but you got her back, didn’t you? Come, let s have 
a drink.” 

I asked him whether he wanted to be executed sitting or 
standing. 

"Ah, let me think,” he said. "It is not an easy question. In- 
cidentally — -I made a mistake. Which I sincerely regret. You 
sec, I had no fun with your Dolly. I am practically impotent, 
to tell the melancholy truth. And I gave her a splendid vaca- 
tion. She met some remarkable people. Do you happen to 
know’ — ■” 

And with a tremendous lurch he fell all over me, sending 
the pistol hurtling under a chest of drawers. Fortunately he 
was more impetuous than rigorous, and I bad little difficulty 
in shoring him back into his chair. 

He puffed a little and folded his arms on his chest. 

"Now you’re done it,” he said- “Vous vodd dans de beaux 
draps. mon rieux.” 

His French was improving. 

I looked around. Perhaps, if — Perhaps I could — On my 
hands and knees? Risk it? 

"AJors, que fait-on?” he asked watching me closely. 

271 



I stooped. He did not move. I stooped lower. 

“My dear sir/’ he said, “stop trifling with life and death. I 
am a playwright. I have written tragedies, comedies, fantasies. 

I have made private movies out of Justine and other eight- 
eenth-century sexcapades. I’m the author of fifty-two successful 
scenarios. I know all the ropes. Let me handle this. There 
should be a poker somewhere, why don't I fetch it, and then 
we'll fish out your property.” 

Fussily, busybodily, cunningly, he had risen again while he 
talked. I groped under the chest trying at the same time to 
keep an eye on him. All of a sudden I noticed that he had 
noticed that I did not seem to have noticed Chum protruding 
from beneath the other comer of the chest. We fell to 
wrestling again. We rolled all over the floor, in each other’s 
arms, like two huge helpless children. He was naked and goat- 
ish under his robe, and I felt suffocated as he rolled over me. I 
rolled over him. We rolled over me. They rolled over him. We 
rolled over us. 

In its published form, this book is being read, I assume, in 
the first years of 2000 a.d. (1935 plus eighty or ninety, live 
long, my love); and elderly readers, will surely recall at this 
point the obligatory scene in the Westerns of their childhood. 
Our tussle, however, lacked the ox-stunning fisticuffs, the fly- 
ing furniture. He and I were two large dummies, stuffed with 
dirty cotton and rags. It was a silent, soft, formless tussle on the 
part of the two literati, one of whom was utterly disorganized 
by a drag while the other was handicapped by a heart condition 
and too much gin. When at last I had possessed myself of my 
precious weapon, and the scenario writer had been reinstalled 
in his low chair, both of us were panting as the cowman and 
the sheepman never do after their battle. 

I decided to inspect the pistol — our sweat might have 
spoiled something — and regain my wind before proceeding to 
the main item in the program. To fill in the pause, I proposed 
he read his own sentence — in the poetical form I had given it 
The term “poetical justice” is one that may be most happily 
used in this respect I handed him a neat typescript. 

“Yes,” he said, “splendid idea. Let me fetch my reading 
glasses” (he attempted to rise). 

“No.” 

“Just as you say. Shall I read out loud?” 

“Yes.” 

“Here goes. I see it’s in verse. 

272 



Because yon tool: advantage of a sinner 
because you took advantage 
because you took 

because you took advantage of my disadvantage 

“That’s good, you know. That's damned good.” 

. . . when I stood Adam-naked 

before a federal law and all its stinging stars 

"Oh, grand stuffl” 

. . , Because you took advantage of a sin 
when I was helpless moulting moist and tender 
hoping for the best 

dreaming of marriage in s mountain state 
aye of a litter of Lolitas . . . 

"Didn't get that" 

Because you took advantage of my inner 
essential innocence 
because you cheated me — 

"A little repetitious, what? ’Where was I?” 

Because you cheated me of my redemption 

because you took 

her at the age when lads 

play with erector sets 

"Getting smutty, eh?” 

a little downy girl still wearing poppies 
still eating popcorn in the colored gloom 
where tawny Indians took paid croppers 
because you stole her 

from her wax-browed and dignified protector 

spitting into his heavy-lidded eye 

ripping his flavid toga and at dawn 

leasing the hog to roll upon his new discomfort 

the awfulncss of love and violets 

remorse despair while vou 



took a dull doll to pieces 
and threw its head away 
because of all you did 
because of all I did not 
you have to die 

“Well, sir, this is certainly a fine poem. Your best as far 
as I am concerned.” 

He folded and handed it back to me. 

I asked him if he had anything serious to say before dying. 
The automatic was again ready for use on the person. He 
looked at it and heaved a big sigh. 

“Now look here, Mac,” he said. “You are drunk and I am a 
sick man. Let us postpone the matter. I need quiet. I have to 
nurse my impotence. Friends are coming in the afternoon to 
take me to a game. This pistol-packing farce is becoming a 
frightful nuisance. We are men of the world, in everything — 
sex, free verse, marksmanship. If you bear me a grudge, I am 
ready to make unusual amends. Even an old-fashioned ren- 
contre, sword or pistol, in Rio or elsewhere — is not excluded. 
My memory and my eloquence are not at their best today but 
really, my dear Mr. Humbert, you were not an ideal stepfather, 
and I did not force your little p rotdgde to join me. It was she 
made me remove her to a happier home. This house is not as 
modem as that ranch we shared with dear friends. But it is 
roomy, cool in summer and winter, and in a word comfortable, 
so, since I intend retiring to England or Florence forever, I 
suggest you move in. It is yours, gratis. Under the condition 
you stop pointing at me that [he swore disgustingly] gun. By 
the -way, I do not know if you care for the bizarre, but if you 
do, I can offer you, also gratis, as house pet, a rather exciting 
little freak, a young lady with three breasts, one a dandy, this 
is a rare and delightful marvel of nature. Now soyons raison- 
nables. You will only wound me hideously and then rot in 
jail while I recuperate in a tropical setting. I promise you, 
Brewster, you will be happy here, with a magnificent cellar, 
and all the royalties from my next play — I have not much at 
the bank right now but I propose to borrow — you know, as the 
Bard said, with that cold in his head, to borrow and to borrow 
and to borrow. There are other advantages. We have -here 
a most reliable and bribable charwoman, a Mrs. Vibrissa — • 
curious name — who comes from the village twice a week, alas 
not today, she has daughters, granddaughters, a thing or two 
I know about the chief of police makes him my slave. I am a 

274 


playwright I have been called the American Maeterlinck 
Maeterlinck-Schmetterling, says I. Come 'on! AD this is very j; 
humiliatmg, and I am not sure I am doing the right thing. 

Ne\'er use herculanita with rum. Now drop that pistol like 
a good fellow. I knew your dear wife slightly. You may use ■ 
my wardrobe. Oh, another thing— you are going to like this. I jl 
have an absolutely unique collection of erotica upstairs. Just 
to mention one item: the in folio de-luxe Bagration Island by L 
the explorer and psychoanalyst Melanie Weiss, a remarkable ji 
lady, a remarkable work — drop that gun — with photographs j“ 
of eight hundred and something male organs she examined h 
and measured in 1932 on Bagration, in the Barda Sea, very !; 
illuminating graphs, plotted with love under pleasant sides — p 

drop that gun — and moreover I can arrange for you to attend ; 
executions, not everybody knows that the chair is painted V. 
yellow — ” - ij 

Feu. This time I hit something hard. I hit the hack of a j> 

black rocking chair, not unlike Dolly SchiHei’s — my bullet hit j; 

the inside surface of its hack whereupon it immediately went 
into a rocking act, so fast and with such zest that any one . 
coming into the room might have been flabbergasted by the r 
double miracle: that chair rocking in a panic all by itself, and ; 
the armchair, where my purple target had just been, now void : 
of all live content. Wiggling his fingers in the ah, with a rapid 
heave of his rump, he flashed into the music room and the 
next second W'e were tugging and gasping on both sides of the : 
door which had a key I had overlooked. I won again, and with 
another abrupt movement Clare the Impredictable sat down 
before the piano and played several atrociously vigorous fun- ■ 
damentally hysterical, plangent chords, his jowls quivering, his ; 
spread hands tensely plunging, and his nostrils emitting the , 
soundtrack snorts which had been absent from our fight. Still 
singing those impossible sonorities, he made a futile attempt ■ 
to open with his foot a kind of seaman’s chest near the piano. 

My next bullet caught him somewhere in the side, and he i 
rose from his chair higher and higher, like old, gray, mad 
Nijinski, like Old Faithful, like some old nightmare of mine, 
to a phenomenal altitude, or so it seemed, as he rent the j 
air— still shaking with the rich black music — head thrown 
back in a howl, hand pressed to his brow, and with his other 
hand clutching his armpit as if stung by a hornet, down he 
came on his heels and, again a normal robed man, scurried out 
into the hall. 

I see myself following him through the hall, with a kind of 

77 ? 


double, triple, Icangaroo jump, remaining quite straight on 
straight legs while bouncing up twice in his wake, and then 
bouncing between him and the front door in a ballet-like stiff 
bounce, with the purpose of heading him off, since the door 
was not properly closed. 

Suddenly dignified, and somewhat morose, he started to 
walk up the broad stairs, and, shifting my position, but not 
actually following him up the steps, I fired three or four times 
in quick succession, wounding him at every blaze; and every 
time I did it to him, that horrible thing to him, his face would 
twitch in an absurd clownish manner, as if he were exaggerat- 
ing the pain; he slowed down, rolled his eyes half closing 
them and made a feminine “ah I” and he shivered every time 
a bullet hit him as if I were tickling him, and every time I 
got him with those slow, clumsy, blind bullets of mine, he 
would say under his breath, with a phoney British accent — 
all the while dreadfully twitching, shivering, smirking, but 
withal talking in a curiously detached and even amiable man- 
ner: “Ah, that hurts, sir, enough I Ah, that hurts atrociously, 
my dear fellow. I pray you, desist. Ah — very painful, very 
painful, indeed . . . God! Hah! This is abominable, you 
should really not — ” His voice trailed off as he reached the 
landing, but he steadily walked on despite all the lead I had 
lodged in his bloated body — and in distress, in dismay, I 
understood that far from killing him I was injecting spurts 
of energy into the poor fellow, as if the bullets had been 
capsules wherein a heady elixir danced. , , 

I reloaded the thing with hands that were black and bloody 
— I had touched something he had anointed with his thick 
gore. Then I rejoined him upstairs, the keys jangling in my 
pockets like gold. 

He was trudging from room to room, bleeding majestically, 
trying to find an open window, shaking his head, and still try- 
ing to talk me out of murder. I took aim at his head, and he 
retired to the master bedroom with a burst of royal purple 
where his ear had been. 

“Get out, get out of here,” he said coughing and spitting; 
and in a nightmare of wonder, I saw this blood-spattered but 
still buoyant person get into his bed and wrap himself up in 
the chaotic bedclothes. I hit him at very close range through 
the blankets, and then he lay back, and a big pink bubble with 
juvenile connotations formed on his lips, grew to the size of 
a toy balloon, and vanished. 

276 



I may haw lost contact with reality for a -second or two— oh, 
nothing of the I-just-blacked-out sort that your common crimi- 
nal enacts; on the contrary, I want to stress the fact that I was 
responsible for every shed drop of his bubbleblood; but a land 
of momentary shift occurred as if I were in the connubial bed- 
room, and Charlotte were sick in bed. Quflty was a very sick 
roan. I held one of his slippers instead of the pistol — I was sit- 
ting on the pistol. Then I made myself a little more comfort- 
able in the chair near the bed, and consulted my wrist watch. 
The crystal was gone but it ticked. The whole sad business 
had taken more than an hour. He was quiet at last Far from 
feeling any relief, a burden even weightier than the one I had 
hoped to get rid of was with me, upon me, over me. I could 
not bring myself to touch him in order to make sure he was 
really dead. He looked it: a quarter of his face gone, and two 
flies beside themselves with a dawning sense of unbelievable 
luck. My hands were hardly in better condition than his. I 
washed up as best I could in the adjacent bathroom. Now I 
could leave. As I emerged on the landing, I was amazed to 
discover that a vivacious buzz I had just been dismissing as a 
mere singing in my ears was really a medley of voices and 
radio music coming from the downstairs drawing room. 

I found there a number of people who apparently had just 
arrived and were cheerfully drinking Quilty’s liquor. There was 
a fat man in an easy chair; and two dark-haired pale young 
beauties, sisters no doubt, big one and small one (almost a 
child), demurely sat side by side on a davenport. A florid-faced 
fellow with sapphire-blue eyes was in the act of bringing two 
glasses out of the bar-like kitchen, where two or three women 
were chatting and chinking ice. I stopped in the doorway and 
said: “I have just killed Clare Quflty.” ‘‘Good for you," said 
the florid fellow as he offered one of the drinks to the elder 
girl. “Somebody ought to have done it long ago,” remarked 
the fat man. “What does he say, Tony?” asked a faded blonde 
from the bar. “He says,” answered the florid fellow, “he has 
killed Cue.” “Well," said another unidentified man rising in 
a comer where he had been crouching to inspect some records, 
I guess we all should do it to him some day.” "Anyway,” said 
Tony, "he'd better come down. We can’t wait for him much 
longer if we want to go to that game.” “Give this man a drink 
somebody," said the fat person. 'Want a beer?” said a woman 
m slacks, showing it to me from afar. 

Only the two girls on the davenport, both wearing black, 

277 


the younger fingering a bright something about her white 
neck, only they said nothing, but just smiled on, so young, so 
lewd. As the music paused for a moment, there was a sudden 
noise on the stairs. Tony and I stepped out into the hah. 
Quilty of all people had managed to crawl out onto the land- 
ing, and there we could see him, flapping and heaving, then 
subsiding, forever this time, in a purple heap. 

“Hurry up. Cue-/' said Tony with a laugh. “I believe, hes 
still—" He returned to the drawing room, music drowned the 
rest of the sentence. - # . 

This, I said to myself, was the end of the ingenious play 
staged for me by Quilty. With a heavy heart I left the house 
and walked through the spotted blaze of the sun to my car. 
Two other cars were parked on both sides of it, and I had 
some trouble squeezing out. 


The rest is a little flattish and faded. Slowly I drove downhill, 
and presently found myself going at the same lazy pace in a 
direction opposite to Parkington. I had left my raincoat in the 
boudoir and Chum in the bathroom. No, it was not a house 
I would have liked to live in. I wondered idly if some surgeon 
of genius might not alter his own career, and perhaps the whole 
destiny of mankind, by reviving quilted Quilty, Clare Obscure. 
Not that I cared; on the whole I wished to forget the whole 
mess — and when I did learn he was dead, the only satisfaction 
it gave me, was the relief of knowing I need not mentally ac- 
company for months a painful and disgusting convalescence 
interrupted by all kinds of unmentionable operations and re- 
lapses, and perhaps an actual visit from him, with trouble on 
my part to rationalize him as not being a ghost. Thomas had 
something. It is strange that the~'tactfie sense, which is so 
infinitely less precious to men than sight, becomes at critical 
moments our main, if not only, handle to reality. I was all 
covered with Quilty — with the feel of that tumble before 
the bleeding. 

The road now stretched across open country, and it occurred 
to me — not by way of protest, not as a symbol, or anything like 

278 



that, but merely as a novel experience — that since I had dis- \ 
-regarded all laws of humanity, I might as well disregard the ) 
rules of traffic. So I crossed to the left side of the highway and j 
checked the feeling, and the feeling was good. It was a pleasant 
diaphragmal melting, with elements of diffused tactility, all this j 
enhanced by the thought that nothing could be nearer to the j 
elimination of basic physical laws than deliberately driving on i 
the wrong side of the road. In a way, it was a very spiritual itch. ; 
Gently, dreamily, not exceeding twenty miles an hour, I drove 
on that queer mirror side. Traffic was light Cars that now and h 
then passed me on the side I had abandoned to them, honked ' ; 
at me brutally. Cars coming towards me wobbled, swerved, and •; 
cried oat in fear. Presently I found myself approaching pop- 
ulated places. Passing through a red light was like a sip of for- ; 
hidden Burgundy when I was a child. Meanwhile complica- 1; 
ti'ons were arising. I was being followed and escorted. Then in '! 
front of me I saw two cars placing themselves in such a man- v 
ner as to completely block my way. With a graceful movement ; 
I turned off the road, and after two or three big bounces, rode j 
up a grassy slope, among surprised cow's, and there I came to 
a gentle rocking stop. A kind of thoughtful Hegelian synthesis 
linking up two dead women. 

I was soon to be taken out of the car (Hi, Melmoth, thanks 
a lot, old fellow) — and was, indeed, looking forward to sur- 
render myself to many hands, without doing anything to 
cooperate, while the}' moved and carried me, relaxed, com- 
fortable, surrendering myself lazily, like a patient, and de- 
riving an eerie enjoyment from my limpness and the absolutely 
reliable support given me by the police and the ambulance i 

people. And while I was waiting for them to run up to me j 

on the high slope, I evoked a last mirage of wonder and hope- ■ j 

lessness. One day, soon after her disappearance, an attack of j 

abominable nausea forced me to pull upon the ghost cf an ; 

old mountain road that now accompanied, now traverse u a t 

brand new highway, with its population cf asters bathin’ in : 

the detached warmth of a pale-blue afternoon in late summer. j 

After coughing myself inside out. I rested a while on s h-r.d- ; 

der, and then, thinking the sweet air minht da mr r.'^k (. 

walked a little way toward a low stone parapet on the prrc.moa j 

side of the highway. Small grasshoppers spurted cut of the 
withered roadside weeds. A very h.-ht clour. v~.-< rptr" — ] 

arms and moving toward a slirintly mere suh f t.;::t.-'. <~v. f 

longing to another, mere slurgish, heaven 1 .:-, car- r;-;t «. ..i i 


I approached the friendly abyss, I grew aware of melodious, 
unity of sounds rising like vapor from a small mining town 
that lay at my feet, in a fold of the valley. One could make 
out the geometry of the streets between blocks of red and gray 
roofs, and green puffs of trees, and a serpentine stream, and 
the rich, ore-like glitter of the city dump, and beyond the 
town, roads crisscrossing the crazy quilt of dark and pale 
fields, and behind it all, great timbered mountains. But even 
brighter than those quietly rejoicing colors — for there are 
colors and shades that seem to enjoy themselves in good com- 
pany — both brighter and dreamier to the ear than they were 
to the eye, was that vapory vibration of accumulated sounds 
that never ceased for a moment, as it rose to the lip of 
granite where I stood wiping my foul mouth. And soon I 
realized that all these sounds were of one nature, that no 
other sounds but these came from the streets of the trans- 
parent town, with the women at home and the men away. 
Readerl What I heard was but the melody of children at play, 
nothing but that, and so limpid was the air that within this 
vapor of blended voices, majestic and minute, remote and 
magically near, frank and divinely enigmatic — one could hear 
now and then, as if released, an almost articulate spurt of vivid 
laughter, or the crack of a bat, or the clatter of a toy wagon, 
but it was all really too far for the eye to distinguish any 
movement in the lightly etched streets. I stood listening to 
that musical vibration from my lofty slope, to those flashes 
of separate cries with a kind of demure murmur for back- 
ground, and then I knew that the hopelessly poignant thing 
was not Lolita's absence from my side, but the absence of her 
voice from that concord. 

This then is my story. I have reread it. It has bits of marrow 
sticking to it, and blood, and beautiful bright-green flies. At 
this or that twist of it I feel my slippery self eluding me, glid- 
ing into deeper and darker waters than I care to probe. I have 
camouflaged what I could so as not to hurt people. And I have 
toyed with many pseudonyms for myself before I hit on a 
particularly apt one. There are in my notes "Otto Otto” and 
‘Mesmer Mesmer” and “Lambert Lam bert,” but for some 
reason I think my choice expresses the nastiness best. 

When I started, fifty-six days ago, to write Lolita, first in the 
psychopathic ward for observation, and then in this well- 
heated, albeit tombal, seclusion, I thought I would use these 
notes in toto at my trial, to save not my head, of course, but 

280 


my sod. In mid-composition, however, I realized that I could 
not parade living Lolita. I still may use parts of this memoir in 
hermetic sessions, but publication is to be deferred. 

For reasons that may appear more obvious than they really 
are, I am opposed to capital punishment; this attitude will be, 
I trust, shared by the sentencing judge. Had I come before 
myself, I would have given Humbert at least thirty-five years 
for rape, and dismissed the rest of the charges. But even so, 
Dolly Schiller will probably survive me by many years. The 
following decision I make with all the legal impact and support 
of a signed testament: I wish this memoir to be published 
only when Lolita is no longer alive. 

Thus, neither of us is alive when the reader opens this book. 
But while the blood still throbs through my writing hand, you 
are still as much part of blessed matter as I am, and I can still 
talk to you from here to Alaska. Be true to your Dick. Do not 
let other fellows touch you. Do not talk to strangers. I hope 
you will love your baby. I hope it will be a boy. That husband 
of yours, I hope, will always treat you well, because otherwise 
my specter shall come at him, like black smoke, like a de- 
mented giant, and pull him apart nerve by nerve. And do not 
pity C. Q. One had to choose between him and H. H., and one 
wanted H, H. to exist at least a couple of months longer, so 
as to have him make you live in the minds of later generations. 
I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pig- 
ments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the 
only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita. 


Vladimir Nabokov 

on a book entitled LOLITA 


After doing my impersonation of suave John Ray, the char- 
acter in Lolita who pens the Foreword, any comments coming 
straight from me may strike one — may strike me, in fact — 
as an impersonation of Vla dim ir Nabokov talking about his 
own book. A few points, however, have to be discussed; and 
the autobiographic device may induce mimic and model to 
blend. ' 

Teachers of Literature are apt to think up such problems 
as “What is the author’s purpose?” or still worse 'What is 
the guy trying to say?” Now, I happen to be the kind of author 
who in starting to work on a book has no other purpose than 
to get rid of that book and who, when asked to explain its 
origin and growth, has to rely on such ancient terms as Inter- 
reaction of Inspiration and Combination — which, I admit, 
sounds like a conjurer explaining one trick by performing 
another. 

The first little throb of Lolita went through me late in 1939 
or early in 1940, in Paris, at a time when I was laid up with a 
severe attack of intercostal neuralgia. As far as I can recall, 
the initial shiver of inspiration was somehow prompted by a 

282 



newspaper story about an ape in the Jardin des Plantes who, 
after months of coaxing by a scientist, produced the first 
drawing ever charcoaled by an animal: this sketch showed the 
bars of the poor creature's cage. The impulse I record had no 
textual connection with the ensuing train of thought, which 
resulted, however, in a prototype of my present novel, a short 
story some thirty pages long. I wrote it in Russian, the lan- 
guage in which I had been writing novels since 1924 (the best 
of these are not translated into English, and all are prohibited j 
for political reasons in Russia). The man was a Central j 
European, the anonymous nymphet was French, and the loci 
were Paris and Provence. I had him marry the little girl’s sick j 
mother who soon died, and after a thwarted attempt to take • 

advantage of the orphan in a hotel room, Arthur (for that was * 

his name) threw himself under the wheels of a truck. I read j 
the story one blue-papered wartime night to a group of friends 
— Mark Aldanov, two social revolutionaries, and a woman f 

doctor; but I was not pleased with the tiring and destroyed j 

it sometime after moving to America in 1940. j 

Around 1949, in Ithaca, upstate New York, the throbbing, i 
which had never quite ceased, began to plague me again. j 
Combination joined inspiration with fresh zest and involved i 
me in a new treatment of the theme, this time in English — the j 
language of my first governess in St. Petersburg, circa 1905. a ; 
Miss Rachel Home. The nymphet, now with a dash of Irish ! 
blood, was really much the same lass, and the baric marrying- j 
hcr-mother idea also subsisted; but otherwise the thing was j 
new and had grown in secret the claws and wings of a novel. j. 

The book developed slowly, with many interruptions and ^ 

asides. It had taken me some forty years to invent Russia red i 

Western Europe, and now I was faced by the task, cf inventing , 
America. The obtaining of such local ingredients a' w.-mid ] 

allow me to inject a modicum of average "reality” '’one rf the [ 

few words which mean nothing without quotes) into thrjusw j 
of individual fancy, proved at fifty a much mere drr.ee t ■. 
process than it had been in the Europe of my youth n’.m ; 

rcceptiveness and retention were at their r.utrm.-t:r ^ 

Other books intervened. Once or twice I was cn the p ut \ 

of burning the unfinished draft and had camru ms- • t*. - r it * t 

Dark as far as the shadow of the laming mcmrirtv t er. trr j 

innocent lawn, when I was stopped by the fhmrr.t t t.-e .> 

ghost of the destroyed book would haunt my Car fa: tar . 
of my lift. j 


Every summer my wife and I go butterfly bunting. The 
specimens are deposited at scientific institutions, such as the 
Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard or the Cornell 
University collection. The locality labels pinned under these 
butterflies will be' a boon to some twenty-first-century scholar 
with a taste for recondite biography.- It was at such of our 
headquarters as TeHuride, Colorado; Afton, Wyoming; Portal, 
Arizona; and Ashland, Oregon, that Lolita was energetically 
resumed in the evenings or on cloudy days. I finished copying 
the thing out in longhand in the spring of 1954, and at once 
began casting around for a publisher. 

At first, on the advice of a wary old friend, I was meek 
enough to stipulate that the book be brought out anony- 
mously. I doubt that I shall ever regret that soon afterwards, 
realizing how likely a mask was to betray my own cause, I 
decided to sign Lolita. The four American publishers, W, X, 
Y, Z, who in turn were offered the typescript and had their 
readers glance at it, were shocked by Lolita to a degree that 
even my wary old friend FT. had not expected. 

While it is true that in ancient Europe, and well into the 
eighteenth century (obvious examples come from France), 
deliberate lewdness was not inconsistent with flashes of com- 
edy, or vigorous satire, or even the verve of a fine poet in a 
wanton mood, it is also true that in modem times the term 
“pornography" connotes mediocrity, commercialism, and 
certain strict rales of narration. Obscenity must be mated with 
banality because every kind of aesthetic enjoyment has to be 
entirely replaced by simple sexual stimulation which demands 
the traditional word for direct action upon the patient. Old 
rigid rales must be followed by the pomographer in order to 
have his patient feel the same security of satisfaction as, for 
example, fans of detective stories feel — stories where, if you 
do not watch out, the real murderer may tum out to be, to 
the fan’s disgust, artistic originality (who for instance would 
want a detective story without a single dialogue in it? ) . Thus, 
in pornographic novels, action has to be limited to the cop- 
ulation of cliches. Style, structure, imagery should never dis- 
tract the reader from his tepid lust. The novel must consist 
of an alternation of sexual scenes. The passages in between 
must be reduced to sutures of sense, logical bridges of the 
simplest design, brief expositions and explanations, which the 
reader wfll probably skip but must know they exist in order 
not to feel cheated (a mentality stemming from the routine 

284 



of "true" fairy tales in childhood). Moreover, the sexual 
scenes in the booh must follow a crescendo line, with new 
variations, new combinations, new sexes, and a steady increase 
in the number of participants (in a Sade play they call the 
gardener in), and therefore the end of the book must be 
more replete with lewd lore than the first chapters. 

Certain techniques in the beginning of Lolita (Humbert’s 
Journal, for example) misled some of my first readers into 
assuming that this was going to be a lewd book. The}- ex- 
pected the rising succession of erotic scenes; when these 
stopped, the readers stopped, too, and felt bored and let down. 
This, I suspect, is one of the reasons why not all the four 
firms read the typescript to the end. Whether they found it 
pornographic or not did not interest me. Their refusal to buy 
the book wa s based not on my treatment of the theme but 
on the theme itself, for there are at least three themes which 
are utterly taboo as far as most American publishers arc con- 
cerned. The two others are: a Negro-White marriage which 
is a complete and glorious success resulting in lots of children 
and grandchildren; and the total atheist who lives a happy 
and useful life, and dies in his sleep at the age of 106. 

Some of the reactions were very amusing: one reader sug- 
gested that his firm might consider publication if I turned 
my Lolita into a twelve-ycar-old lad and had him seduced by 
Humbert, a fanner, in a bam, amidst gaunt and arid sur- 
roundings, all this set forth in short, strong, "realistic” sen- 
tences (“He acts crazy. We all act crazy, I guess. I guess God 
acts crazy.” Etc.). Although everybody should know that 
I detest symbols and allegories (which is due partly to my old 
feud with Freudian voodooism and partly to my loathing of 
generalizations devised by literary mythisis and sociologist'!, 
an otherwise intelligent reader who flipped through the first 
part described Lolita as "Old Europe debauching yrr.r.g 
America,” while another flipper saw in it ‘Tonne Amm." 
debauching old Europe.” Publisher X. whore advisers retire 
bored with Humbert that they never got beyond pare r c L 
had the nalvetd to write me th3t Part Two was too lone. FnN 
lishcr Y, on the other hand, regretted th- :e v.-ere no r r '*'d I 
pic in the book. Publisher Z said if he panted Lc.rt.*, be e:rt. 

I would go to jail. _ . 

No writer in a free country should be exported pr 

about the exact demarcation between the seme.-:' r: ; : ■' 
sensual; this is preposterous; I can only r.g.'.mre 1 't 


emulate the accuracy of judgment of those who pose the 
fair young mammals photographed in magazines where the 
general neckline is just low enough to provoke a past master’s 
chuckle and just high enough not to make a postmaster 
frown. I presume there exist readers who find titillating the 
display of mural words in those hopelessly banal and enormous 
novels which are typed out by the thumbs of tense mediocrities 
and called "powerful" and "stark" by the reviewing hack. 
There are gentle souls who would pronounce Lolita meaning- 
less because it does not teach them anything. I am neither a 
reader nor a writer of didactic fiction, and, despite John Ray’s 
assertion, Lolita has no moral in tow. For me a work of fiction 
exists only insofar as it affords me what I shall bluntly call 
aesthetic bliss, that is a sense of being somehow, somewhere, 
connected with other states of being where art (curiosity, 
tenderness, kindness, ecstasy) is the norm. There are not 
many such books. All the rest is either topical trash or what 
some call the Literature of Ideas, which very often is topical 
trash coming in huge blocks of plaster that are carefully 
transmitted from age to age until somebody comes along with 
a hammer and takes a good crack at Balzac, at Gorki, at Mann. 

Another charge which some readers have made is that Lolita 
is anti-American. This is something that pains me considerably 
more than the idiotic accusation of immorality. Considerations 
of depth and perspective (a suburban lawn, a mountain 
meadow) led me to build a number of North American sets. 
I needed a certain exhilarating milieu. Nothing is more ex- 
hilarating than philistine vulgarity. But in regard to philistine 
vulgarity there is no intrinsic difference between Palearctic 
manners and Nearctic manners. Any proletarian from Chicago 
can be as bourgeois (in the Flaubertian sense) as a duke. I 
chose American motels instead of Swiss hotels or English inns 
only because I am trying to be an American writer and claim 
only the same rights that other American writers enjoy. On 
the other hand, my creature Humbert is a foreigner and an 
anarchist, and there are many things, besides nymphets, in 
which I disagree with him. And all my Russian readers know 
that my old worlds — Russian, British, German, French — are 
just as fantastic and personal as my new one is. 

Lest the little statement I am making here seem an airing of 
grudges, I must hasten to add that besides the lambs who read 
tho typescript of Lolita or its Olympia Press edition in a spirit 
of “Why did he have to write it?” or "Why should I read 

286 


about maniacs?” there have been a number of wise, sensitive, 
and staunch people who understood my book much better 
than l ean explain its mechanism here. 

Every serious writer, 1 dare say, is aware of this or that pub- 
lished book of his as of a constant comforting presence. Its 
pilot light is steadily burning somewhere in the basement and 
a mere touch applied to one’s private thermostat instantly 
results in a quiet little explosion of familiar warmth. This 
presence, this glow of the book in an ever accessible remote- 
ness is a most companionable feeling, and the better the book 
has conformed to its prefigured contour and color the ampler 
and smoother it glows. But even so, there are certain points, 
byroads, favorite hollows that one evokes more eagerly and 
enjoys more tenderly than the rest of one’s book. I have not 
reread Lolita since I went through the proofs in the winter of 
1954 but I find it to be a delightful presence now that it 
quietly hangs about the house like a summer day which one 
knows to be bright behind the haze. And when I thus think 
of Lolita, I seem always to pick out for special delectation such 
images as Mr. Taxovich, or that class list of Ramsdalc School, 
or Charlotte saying "waterproof,” or Lolita in slow morion 
advancing toward Humbert’s gifts, or the pictures decorating 
the stylized garret of Gaston Godin, or the Kasbcam barber 
{who cost me a month of work), or Lolita playing tennis, or 
the hospital at Elphinstone, or p3lc, pregnant, beloved, ir- 
retrievable Dolly Schiller dying in Gray Star (the capital town 
of the book), or the tinkling sounds of the valley town com- 
ing up the mountain trail (on which I caught the first known 
female of Lycacidcs sublivens Nabokov). These arc the nerve* 
of the novel. These arc the secret points, the subliminal co- 
ordinates by means of which the book is plotted — although 
I realize very clearly that these and other scenes will be slim- 
med over or not noticed, or never even reached, by them 
wbo begin reading the book under the impression tint it h 
something on the lines of Memoirs of a Woman o' F.Va-wc 
or Les Amours dc Milord Gropn't. That my novel dow con- 
tain various allusions to the physiological urges of a 
is quite true. But after all vve are not children, n-t 
juvenile delinquents, not English public b-yr w.m riir: 
a night of homosexual romp* have to endure the pm: w of 
reading the Ancients in cxprug.rtrd veu'Yrr. 

It is childish to study .a work of fict.- n m ora,-: : - r".- -u- 
formation about a conntrv or about a reck! cl"' f t -■ 



author. And yet one of my very few intimate friends, after 
reading Lolita , was sincerely worried that I (I!) should be 
living “among such depressing people” — when the. only dis- 
comfort I really experienced was to live in my workshop 
among discarded limbs and unfinished torsos. 

After Olympia Press, in Paris, published the book, an 
American critic suggested that Lolita was the record of my 
love affair with the romantic novel. The substitution “English 
language” for “romantic novel” would make this elegant 
formula more correct. But here I feel my voice rising to a 
much too strident pitch. None of my American friends have 
read my Russian books and thus every appraisal on the strength 
of my English ones is bound to be out of focus. My private 
tragedy, which cannot, and indeed should not, be anybody’s 
concern, is that I had to abandon my natural, idiom, my un- 
trammeled, rich, and infinitely docile Russian tongue for a 
second-rate brand of English, devoid of any of those ap- 
paratuses — the baffling mirror, the black velvet backdrop, 
the implied associations and traditions — which the native il- 
lusionist, frac-tails flying, can magically use to transcend the 
heritage in his own way. 


November 12, 1956 


THE END 

of a Crest Reprint by 
Vladimir Nabokov 


288